Did Israel Risk Civilian Lives to Strike Syria Targets?

February 9th, 2020 - by Joanne Stocker / The Defense Post

Syria missile defense systems nearly shot down passenger plane after latest Israeli strikes, Russia says

Joanne Stocker / The Defense Post

DAMASCUS (February 7, 2020) — Syrian missile defense systems nearly shot down a passenger plane with 172 people on board while responding to an attack near Damascus airport this week, Russian defense ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said on Friday.

The Airbus 320 traveling from Tehran was preparing to land in Damascus early on Thursday, February 6 when Israeli F-16 fighter jets fired air-to-surface missiles at targets near the airport, Tass reported Konashenkov as saying.

The plane was “escorted out of the danger zone and assisted in landing” at Hmeimim airbase, he said.

Konashenkov accused the Israeli Air Force of using passenger jets for cover while carrying out operations in Syria.

Israel rarely confirms reports of its missions in neighboring Syria, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the IAF struck Syrian targets “hundreds” of times in recent years. Most of Israel’s bombardments have targeted Syrian military infrastructure or Iran-backed groups allied with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

The Russian claim comes just weeks after Iran admitted shooting down a Ukrainian civilian airliner in the wake of tit-for-tat missile strikes in Iraq after a US drone strike killed one of its top generals, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani.

Russia: Israel Used Civilian Plane as Cover in Syria Attack

Civilian airliner nearly shot down over Damascus

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(February 7, 2020)— An Airbus 320 passenger jet with 172 people on board was nearly shot down over the Syrian capital city of Damascus on Thursday morning, as Syrian missile defense systems activated to respond to an incoming Israeli attack on the Damascus airport. 

Russian Defense Ministry officials suggested that they don’t think the incident was coincidental, but rather that the Israeli military is deliberately using passenger jets for cover while attacking Syrian targets. 

Israel likely considers this a win-win strategy, because either Syria doesn’t contest attacking Israeli planes, letting them strike with impunity, or Syria accidentally hits a civilian plane and gets condemned internationally for that. 

In the case of the Airbus, which was flying out of Tehran, Israeli F-16s were active in the air by the airport when it was hoping to land, and fired air-to-surface missiles at the airport. The civilian plane was escorted safely out of the area, and landed in Hmeimim Airbase, a base further west in use by Russian planes. 

Israel’s attacks on Damascus that night were reported, with one monitor saying 23 people were believed killed. Israel has not commented so far, and probably won’t with Russia accusing them of endangering civilian planes. 

Syrian state media confirmed the attacks, saying that their missile defense had intercepted a number of the Israeli missiles. State media did not appear to repeat Russian reports on the near-shootdown. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights suggested that the bulk of the slain in the Israeli attack were Iraqis from Jisr al-Baghdad, though a number of Syrian soldiers were also killed in an attack on their air defense system.

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