For the third time in as many weeks Israel has reportedly bombed positions inside Syria. Syrian state media along with multiple regional outlets showed fires burning at a facility near the Damascus international airport in the early hours of Friday. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that like with previous attacks, Israel jets fired from over Lebanese airspace. But it appears the latest exchange was part of a tit-for-tat exchange of fire between Syria and Israel in a situation that continues to dangerously escalate.
Multiple reports are circulating that the Israeli attack was initiated after Syria's aerial defense missile system engaged and fired on an Israeli aircraft in the area. Video of what purports to show Syrian missiles firing on the aircraft circulated widely in Syrian social media and was picked up by Lebanese and Israeli news outlets. Early reports indicate that an Israeli drone was likely the target.
It appears that Israel's attack came in response to Syria's engaging the unidentified aircraft - though it's unclear if the target was hit. This latest incident is unique for the fact that Syria quickly publicized that its missile defense system engaged the Israeli target.
The Facebook page of a prominent Syrian pro-government militia reported in the early morning hours that, “an area near the Damascus international airport was attacked by a hostile missile." Israeli newspapers are claiming the site to be an ammunition storage depot.
The exchange of fire comes after a Tuesday incident wherein the Israel Defense Forces shot down what it identified as an Iranian-made drone which departed from Damascus and subsequently entered the demilitarized zone along the border on the Golan Heights. Israel's aerial defense command fired a Patriot missile and destroyed the drone.
Meanwhile, Israeli jets have been illegally operating in Lebanese airspace with increased intensity of late - even to the point of causing temporary moments of panic over southern Lebanon as low flying jets sometimes break the sound barrier. Violation of Syrian airspace was more brazen in previous years of the war, but as we've explained previously it appears that Israel is carefully calculating it's strike positions over "neutral" Lebanese airspace so as not to force a Russian response by directly violating Syrian space.
Weeks ago senior Israeli officials were quoted as threatening to assassinate Syrian President Assad by bombing his palace in Damascus, while further adding that Israel will seek to derail the US-Russia brokered de-escalation deal reached in Astana, Kazakhstan earlier this summer. The Astana deal essentially put Russia in the driver's seat in Syria, which Israel sees as guaranteeing a permanent Iranian presence - something Prime Minister Netanyahu sees as intolerable.
Though rarely acknowledged in the media, Israel and Syria have been at open war since at least 2013, when Israel launched a massive missile attack against a Syrian defense technology facility in Jamraya outside of Damascus. Israel has also targeted Damascus International Airport on a number of occasions. During the summer, the head of Israel's air force acknowledged nearly one hundred IDF attacks on convoys inside Syria over the course of the past 5 years. And as a Wall Street Journal investigation confirmed, the Israeli army has been providing military aid to al-Qaeda linked rebels operating in Syria's south for years.