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Defense Minister Gantz confirms Russian attack on Israeli planes in Syria

The first-time incident in May is a concerning development

Illustrative - Israel Air Force F-16I 'Sufa' (Photo: Major Ofer/ Israeli Air Force)

Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz has now confirmed that Russia fired its advanced anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli F-35I stealth fighters flying over Syria – the first time that the S-300s have been used against Israeli aircraft over Syria and a concerning development.

Gantz’s admission follows an unconfirmed news report in May on the attack. The story was initially reported by Channel 13 a week after the May 13 strike on targets in northwestern Syria near the city of Masyaf.

The Air Force said that Israeli planes – targeting Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon – were already out of Syrian airspace at the time of the missile attack and were not hit. 

Gantz stressed that this only occurred once. But the S-300 batteries are manned by Russian crews and are under their authority. Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria since the country’s civil war.

In his interview with Channel 13’s Alon Ben David, Gantz stressed that the situation is now stable. Israel has carried out many airstrikes in Syria since the May incident.

The Masyaf area is believed to be a base for pro-Iranian militias and has been repeatedly targeted by the IDF in recent years. Images taken from satellites of the strike target show that an underground facility was totally destroyed. 

Photos of the structures before and after the attack show one small structure still intact.

Israel’s relationship with Russia has deteriorated over the war in Ukraine and a diplomatic row between Jerusalem and Moscow is brewing, with Russia threatening to shut down the Jewish Agency’s operations in that country.

Israel, meanwhile, continues to seek freedom of movement in Syria’s skies, which are controlled by Russia. 

Russia and Israel recently established a so-called ‘deconfliction’ hotline for the two sides to maintain communication and avoid accidental clashes. 

Three battalions, each with eight launchers of the advanced S-300 air defense system, were provided to Syria’s military by Russia in 2018 free of charge despite strong objections on the part of Israel and the United States.

This was in response to the downing of a Russian spy plane responding to an Israeli air attack over Syria. Russia blamed Israel when 15 crew members were killed.

For years Israel has objected to Russia giving Syria the S-300 system saying that it upsets the balance of power in the region, making it more difficult for Israel to neutralize threats such as Hezbollah. But beyond providing Syria with an air defense system, Russia protects its own assets with the S-400 state-of-the-art defense system and has never used it against Israeli planes. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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