11 February 2020 — New Eastern Outlook
While using a civilian airliner as a cover, four Israeli F-16 fighters approched the outskirts of Damascus and launched an attack on local residential areas late at night on February 6. There’s no disputing that by adopting this tactics the Israeli Air Force endangered the civilian aircraft – Airbus A320, owned by the Syrian private airline Cham Wings Airlines, that was arriving to Damascus from Najaf International Airport (NJF) in Iraq with 172 passengers on board. This Syrian airliner was running late and it’s clear from the data provided by FlightrRadar24, that the Israeli military aircraft were clearly expecting the arrival of yet another A320, owned by SyrianAir that was due to arrive from Tehran, hoping to provoke local air defence units into destroying the liner by mistake.
If it wasn’t for the prompt actions of the flight dispatchers of the Damascus international airport and the efficient automated air traffic control system, this civilian airliner would be in mortal peril, but thankfully it managed to escape the kill zone, landing safely at the nearest available airfield at the Russian Hmeimim air base.
The situation looks painfully familiar as in September of 2018, 4 Israeli F-16s launched missile strikes against unknown targets in the Syrian Latakia province, while using Russia’s Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft with 15 crew members aboard as a cover. Predictably enough, the Israeli jets provoked a response of Syrian anti-aircraft units that resulted in the destruction of IL-20. All people on board were killed.
On December 26, 2018, the same flight of the above-mentioned Syrian airline Cham Wings Airlines was bound to land at the Damascus international airport, but in a bid to escape a similar provocation staged by the Israeli Ari Force had to detour and landed at the Russian Hmeimim airbase. On that day a total of two civilian liners had to change their flight routes at the fault of the Israeli Air Force, which threatened innocent civilian in what that can only be described as a provocation. In both cases near Damascus, the jets were operating from the airspace of a third country – Lebanon, justifying their actions by alleged attacks against Iranian warehouses and convoys that were said to be used for military operations against Israel.
In both cases, passengers aboard civilian airliners were at risk as local air defense units were bound to open fire to repel the Israeli missile attacks, risking to hit civilian targets approaching the Damascus international airport to land there. In other words, more than on one occasion a situation similar to the tragic incident with the Iranian downing of the UIA Boeing 737, traveling from Tehran to Kiev was deliberately staged by the Israeli Air Force. As for downed Boeing the Iranian authorities officially recognized that it was mistakenly shot down by air defence units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which resulted in the untimely demise of 167 passengers and nine crew members of the airliner – citizens of Iran, Ukraine, Canada, the UK, Sweden and Afghanistan. This tragedy inflicted a significant political, economic and PR damaged on Iran. In this regard, the clearly distinguishable similarities of the provocative attacks in Iran and Syria is obvious, which raises reasonable questions of the strategic command that must be planning such attacks.
It is also noteworthy that the Israeli Air Force chose the SyrianAir flight arriving from Tehran as its target, and Israel has always been explaining all of its recent aggressive actions in Syria and the Middle East by its desire to counter the rising influence of Iran.
Thus, the Israeli General Staff conducting military operations in the Syrian airspace while using civilian aircraft carrying passengers as a cover is now something of a trademark of the Israeli Air Force, which is doesn’t afraid of putting the lives of hundreds of innocent people in harm’s way to achieve its ends.
Acting in this way, striking from cover, like bandits do on a highway, the Israeli Air Force seeks to avoid getting caught violating the Syrian airspace or even being hit by Syrian anti-aircraft missile systems. They hit the Syrian territory, appearing in the sky, for example, over Lebanon, leaving Damascus’s hands tied. If Syrian air defense shoots down an Israeli plane in the sky above Lebanon that did not invade the Syrian airspace, then Damascus will be framed by Israel, the United States and its allies as an aggressor that tries to launch yet another war in the Middle East. In addition, geographical features of the lands around Damascus play a huge role here. Israeli military jets would typically launch strikes against targets within the Syrian territory from the Bekaa Valley, while being covered from all sides by mountains. They literally appear from nowhere from behind the mountain ranges and disappear as rapidly, while still managing to hit various targets.
For these reasons, there can be no objective assessment of the efficiency of the Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems that were delivered to Syria to allow Damascus to defend its air space.
At the same time, looking on the provocative and frankly aggressive actions of Israel, which has repeatedly launched missile attacks on civilian targets inside Syria, it can be confidently said that it has already crossed the “red line” and official Damascus may at any time retaliate against the aggressors, which will add one more conflict to the long list of the existing armed conflicts within the region.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry has raised the issue of those Israeli air strikes on Damascus in UN official statements, while pointing out that such attacks are only possible due to the US supporting and the UN Security Council remaining silent about them. As indicated in one of the last messages of the Syrian Foreign Ministry, such treacherous actions fit into the framework of Israel’s attempts to prolong the crisis and derail Damascus anti-terror efforts, to raise the morale of the remnants of terrorist groups, thus Israel is acting as their supporter. In addition, this is yet another attempt made by the Israeli government to get away from discussing the most pressing regional problems like the peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which only leads to an increase in anti-Israeli sentiments across the region and the world.
At the same time, the stubborn silence of the international community and the United Nations on such Israeli actions is truly surprising, when civilians, including foreign citizens, passengers of civilian aircraft arriving to Syria every day may perish in any of the similar provocative attacks committed by the Israeli Air Force.
Vladimir Platov, Middle East expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.