Feb 13,2018 – JORDAN TIMES
Syria has become a congested arena for various state and no-state combatants, each with its own agenda. So much so that Saturday’s precarious incident, when Syrian anti-aircraft fire downed an Israeli F-16 fighter jet over northern Galilee, appeared inevitable. Israel retaliated by waging what was described as the biggest air strikes on Syria in 30 year Israel. It said its jets had targeted Syrian and Iranian positions, while Tehran denied Israeli reports that the clash was triggered by an Iranian-made drone that had violated Israeli airspace earlier that day.
For few hours, it appeared that a major showdown was about to be unleashed. But Russia, the major powerbroker in Syria, called for restraint, and urged parties to respect the country’s sovereignty. The US, Israel’s closest ally, took its time to react and when it did, it said it had played no part in Saturday’s events, while supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.
The incident raised more questions than answers. Since 2014, Israel had repeatedly struck government and Hezbollah positions in Syria, but this was the first time that the Syrian air defence system responded and succeeded in hitting a target. The downing of the F-16 had rattled Israel, which while remaining defiant, appeared to be taking stock of this latest qualitative development. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu warned that Israel will not allow Iran to establish military bases or missile manufacturing sites in Syria. For Israel, Iran’s proximity to the Golan and its presence, along with its Hizbollah proxy, in southern Syria will not be tolerated no matter the cost.
But how could an aging Soviet-made SA-5 missile knock out one of the most sophisticated fighter jets in operation? And could the launch of the missile, or missiles, have taken place without prior knowledge of the Russians who practically control Syria’s air defence system? Could the downing of the Israeli jet be in response to the shooting down of a Russian Sukhoi-25 over rebel-held Idlib province a week earlier? Back then, Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham claimed it fired a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile at the Russian fighter, raising questions about how it acquired such an advanced weapon.