Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned Israeli Ambassador to Russia Alexander Ben Zvi to the Kremlin on Wednesday for a rebuke regarding Israel’s airstrike on Damascus Airport last week.
“Serious concern was again expressed over the Israeli air force attack on the Damascus airport, which damaged the runway, navigation equipment and buildings, and harmed international civilian air traffic,” a statement from Russia’s foreign ministry said after a tense meeting between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and Ben Zvi.
“The ambassador was told that the justification received from the Israeli side on the strike on Damascus International Airport seemed unconvincing and that Moscow is waiting for additional clarifications,” the statement read.
Bogdanov told Ben Zvi that Russia would not allow Syria to be a theater of war between other countries.
According to a report by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, three Iranian-backed arms depots were struck in the attack.
With the strikes, Israel is sending the message that it “won’t let Iran fill the vacuum (left by) Russia in Syria while it is busy with Ukraine,” said Ibrahim Hamidi, a Syrian journalist and senior diplomatic editor for Syrian affairs at the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
For years, Israel has been carrying out airstrikes in Syria, saying it is determined to prevent Iran’s entrenchment near its northern border and the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah, which is funded and armed by Tehran. The strikes have largely hit bases of Iranian-allied militias, including Hezbollah, as well as convoys said to be carrying arms to Hezbollah.
Friday’s strikes were the most extensive against a civilian target and, by shutting the airport down, had the widest impact. As in the past, Israel did not claim responsibility for the strikes.
Israeli media reported that the aim of the latest attack was to prevent the flow of equipment used in precision-guided missiles to Hezbollah.
Military affairs analyst Yossi Yehoshua wrote in Israel’s daily Yedioth Ahronoth that the Iranians have tried to ramp up aerial operations, first using cargo planes and hiding the weapons in hangars at Damascus International Airport. He claimed that now Iran and Hezbollah were using civilian flights to Damascus and Beirut to smuggle advanced military materiel to Hezbollah.
“Materiel consists of relatively small parts that look innocuous enough” and are easy to hide inside checked baggage on a civilian flight, Yehoshua wrote.
Amos Harel, senior military correspondent for Israel’s daily Haaretz, wrote that Iran has sought ways around Israeli disruptions and recently some of the best systems have been smuggled in hand luggage on commercial flights.
He added that the action suggests Israel perhaps feels it can take far-reaching military steps now, while international attention is focused on Ukraine.
Past Israeli strikes have largely gone without retaliation from the Syrians. Israeli airstrikes in Syria are usually coordinated with Moscow through a “deconfliction mechanism” to avoid direct confrontation with Russian forces in Syria.
A Lebanese journalist who covers Arab-Israeli affairs, Sateh Noureddine, wrote that Israel’s move to knock out Damascus’ airport signals “a plan to impose a complete air blockade on Iran while also striking at Hezbollah, depriving it of a vital air link with its only military supply center.”
The strikes could be a first step toward a possible Israel-Hezbollah war, Noureddine warned, writing in the Lebanese news site Al-Modon, where he is editor-in-chief.
A Lebanese military analyst who closely follows affairs in Syria and Lebanon said Syrian officials have been unusually “tightlipped” since the strike, given its significance.
“There is silence in Syria at all levels and the real scope of the strike is unknown,” he said, asking that his name not be made public in order to discuss the Syrian reaction.
“The timing of the strike and link with to regional developments is puzzling,” he said.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem & AP)