Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Russia: Israeli Strikes In Syria 'Provocative Acts'

Russia calls Israeli strikes in Syria 'provocative acts'

According to Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, Israeli F-16s carried out airstrikes on Syrian targets as two civilian flights were landing in Beirut and Damascus, putting the passengers at risk. 

“Provocative acts by the Israeli Air Force endangered two passenger jets when six of their F-16s carried out airstrikes on Syria from Lebanese airspace,” he was quoted by RT news as saying. 

According to the report, the Syrian military didn’t deploy surface-to-air missiles and electronic jamming “to prevent a tragedy” and to let Damascus air traffic control divert one of the passenger jets to Khmeimim airbase near Latakia. 

Unconfirmed reports indicated that one of the flights which were diverted was a Cham Wings flight from Najaf to Latakia. 

Russia’s Ministry of Defense added that regime air defenses had destroyed 14 of 16 missiles fired by Israel during the strikes. 

According to a report by Newsweek quoting a source in the US Defense Department, senior Hezbollah leaders were targeted the airstrikes on Tuesday

The report quoted the source as having obtained the information from a senior Israeli military officer “with direct knowledge of the attack” which “was conducted minutes after the leaders boarded a plane bound for Iran.”

Other locations reported by Syrian media to have been struck during the strike are as follows: pro-Iranian military positions located in the suburbs of Damascus, air defense facilities and headquarters of the 68th Brigade and the 137th Brigade of the Syrian Army in the Damascus area, a military headquarters belonging to the 4th Division of the Syrian Army in the Al-Muna area surrounding Damascus and military Unit 10 in the district of Qatana.

The strikes, which began around 10PM, struck several locations and were reported by Newsweek to have targeted-in addition to the plane- weapons warehouses as well as several Iranian ammunition supply points which advanced contained GPS-guided ammunition for Hezbollah.

Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are red-lines for the Jewish State.

Syrian state media said the strikes were carried out from Lebanese airspace and that a number of “hostile targets” were intercepted by its S-200 air defense system. Israel’s air defense system was also activated, with a smoke-trail seen from the city of Hadera south of Haifa. There were no reports of injuries or damage to Israel.

Earlier on Tuesday an Iranian cargo jet belonging to Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm landed in Damascus International Airport. The Boeing 747, affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) took off from Tehran at 5.30PM and landed shortly after 7.45PM. The airline has been accused several times of smuggling Iranian weaponry to Hezbollah, and was suspected to have transported military equipment from Tehran to the Syrian army and Hezbollah.

With the presence of Iranian and Hezbollah forces, Israel’s northern front has become the IDF’s number one priority. Working to prevent the entrenchment of Iranian forces and the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, the Israel Air Force has admitted to carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria. 

Hezbollah senior leaders and members were travelling to Damascus during the airstrikes that rocked areas west of the Syrian capital on Tuesday evening. They were reportedly hit during the air strikes leaving many questions as to why they were targeted and who they were.

Newsweek reported on Wednesday that Hezbollah leaders were targeted in the airstrikes. According to several sources, including the Lebanese website, the Hezbollah delegation was journeying to Damascus to board a flight bound for Tehran. They were heading to the funeral for Grand Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, an important Iranian cleric who was head of the Expediency Discernment Council. He passed away on December 24 and senior Iranian religious figures buried him on Wednesday. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei presided at the ceremonies according to Iranian Fars News. It now appears the Hezbollah delegation may have been heading to Damascus to board a flight to Tehran for the important event. Hezbollah and Iranian regime leaders regularly attend each others funerals and ceremonies. For instance IRGC Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani went to the grave of Jihad Mughniyeh in 2015 in Beirut.

A Mahan Air flight left Damascus around 10 in the evening in the midst of the airstrikes. Mahan Air has been designated by the US Treasury Department for its links to the IRGC. Israel Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said in 2016 that Mahan Air was among those flights used by Tehran to supply Hezbollah. However these flights could fly directly to Beirut so why would a Hezbollah delegation need to travel to Damascus to board the flight?

The claim that the Hezbollah members were targeted and that they were traveling for the Shahroudi funeral has not been confirmed. Newsweek reported that a Department of Defense source had told them the strike was “conducted minutes after the leaders board a plane bound for Iran.” Strikes also targeted ammunition warehouses that held precision ammunition. The claim that the Hezbollah members had already boarded a plane has not been corroborated with any footage on the ground that shows a plane being hit. A strike on a plane at a Damascus airport would be a serious escalation. The report may be only partly accurate and may indicate the men were struck on the way to board a blame, not after they had boarded.

Syria’s state media SANA claims that Syrian air defense had “intercepted hostile missiles fired by Israeli warplanes from Lebanese territory and managed to drop most of the rockets before reaching their targets.” SANA says the airstrikes hit an ammunition depot and wounded only three soldiers. 

Several Syria observers, including the Twitter account @Syria_SR claimed the airstrikes were more complex than that, involving “55 munition, four waves [of cruise missiles] in 35 minutes and managed to hit 7 times in 2 different locations.” In response Syrian air defense fired 60 missiles to intercept the attack. Several Syrian SA-125 anti-air missiles misfired during the attempt to stop the attack, hitting areas around Damascus and causing confusion.

The allegation that the senior Hezbollah members were targeted on their way to the Shahroudi funeral has now been repeated by many sources on social media and online. Why would Hezbollah members expose themselves on the road to Damascus knowing that there have been tensions in the region in recent months. Did they feel safe, hoping Syria’s S-300 air defense system, supplied by Russia in the wake of the downing of a Russian IL-20 in September during an Israeli air strike, would provide them security? Targeted in the past on the same stretch of road they would have known its dangers. It doesn’t answer the final question of why they didn’t board a flight directly from Beirut and save themselves the drive and exposure.

Hezbollah media and pro-Syrian regime media has been silent on this issue. Iranian regime media has also been silent, discussing only the Syrian air defense system’s “success” at targeting the attack and continuing the story that only a warehouse was hit and several soldiers injured. In coming hours or days the Syrian regime or pro-Hezbollah media may begin to reveal what happened, especially if senior members of the group were killed they will want to hold lavish funerals for the “martyrs.” Hezbollah is often outspoken about these kinds of events.

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