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Syria demands retaliation following Israeli missile strike

epa00138284 An Israeli Air Force F-16I jet fighter takes off after touching down briefly at the Ramon Air Force Base in the Negev Desert as Israel takes possession of two of the newest jet fighters in a ceremony on Thursday, 19 February 2004. The two jets flew from Texas to Israel with a stop over for fueling in the Azore Islands. The F-16I, or "Sufra", Hebrew for 'Storm', is a joint Israeli-American fighter with Israel supplying the core avionics. The jet has a sophisticated radar system, a satellite communications system and anti-missile electronic warfare system as well as an improved pilot's helmet with a night vision system. EPA/JIM HOLLANDER

The Syrian government has threatened retaliation against Israel following a claimed strike on one of its bases.

The missile strike is reported to have taken place on the al-Mazzeh military airport west of Damascus and to have involved Israeli land based missiles launched by Israeli aircraft from the area of the Sea of Galilee (“Lake Tiberias”) within Israel.  It is likely that the missiles used were Popeye missiles which have a range of up to 80 km.

The Syrian news agency SANA has provided a summary of the Syrian Foreign Ministry’s statement

The Ministry said that in this context the Israeli aircrafts fired a large number of missiles from Lake Tiberias area which landed in the surroundings of al-Mazzeh airport at 12:25 AM, causing a fire to erupt, pointing out that these attacks would not have happened without the direct support of the outgoing US administration and the French and British leaderships…..

The Ministry affirmed that the blatant Israeli role in the terrorist war on Syria makes it imperative for the international community and the Secretariat of the United Nations and the UN Security Council to take immediate action to punish the Israeli aggressor and prevent such attacks from being repeated, as their disastrous impact isn’t limited to attacking the Syrian sovereignty and defying the UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, but they also manifest as direct Israeli support for terrorist organizations in Syria.

SANA’s summary of the Syrian Foreign Ministry’s statement shows that Syria is not threatening to retaliate against Israel itself.  Quite simply Syria lacks the means to do so, and would anyway wish to avoid an armed conflict with Israel which it cannot win at a time when its hands are still full fighting Al-Qaeda and ISIS.  Instead Syria is demanding that the “international community” act against Israel, something which Syria knows will not happen.

The Syrian government is linking the attack on the al-Mazzeh with the recent defeats of the Jihadi groups which it claims Israel along with the other Western powers is supporting.  Western media reports by contrast are claiming that the attack was intended to strike at Syrian supplies to the Lebanese Shiite militia group Hezbollah.

Whatever the specific reasons for the strike, its underlying cause is almost certainly a desire by Israel to remind Syria and Russia of Israel’s continued military superiority over Syria.

Israel is known to be concerned by the Russian military build-up in Syria, which is tilting the military balance in the region against it.  Recent reports which have appeared in the Israeli media claim that Russian radars in Syria are now able to track the takeoff of every Israeli aircraft from an Israeli airfield.

Russia and Israel currently have excellent relations with each other, and the Israelis no doubt calculate – undoubtedly correctly – that the Russians will not interfere in occasional strikes by Israel against Syrian military targets of the sort that has just happened so long as Russian facilities in Syria are not threatened, and so long as the strikes do not escalate into all-out war.

However Israel cannot be sure that this will always be the case, and missile strikes like the one which has just happened are no doubt in part intended as a message not just to the Syrians but also to the Russians that in this region Israel remains a powerful force to be reckoned with.

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