assessments

Sep 6, 2007 | 14:06 GMT

3 mins read

Israeli Overflight and the Syrian Response

David Silverman/Getty Images
The Syrian army's air defenses fired Sept. 6 on an Israel air force (IAF) warplane that entered Syrian airspace and "dropped ammunition," SANA, the official Syrian news agency, reported. After midnight local time Sept. 6, the Israeli aircraft entered Syria through the northern border, coming from the Mediterranean Sea and heading toward the eastern region, SANA reported, citing an unidentified government spokesman. Local residents said they heard the sound of five or more planes above the Tal al-Abiad area on Syria's border with Turkey, about 52 miles north of the Syrian city of Rakka. It is unlikely that a single plane would be operating without at least one wingman, and the area Syria claims the ammunition drop took place is deep inside the country. The IAF plane or planes apparently avoided the dense air defense network near the Israeli border and around the Syrian capital, Damascus. This is the same area the IAF successfully penetrated in the summer of 2006 to buzz Syrian President Bashar al Assad's summer home in Latakia. It is unlikely this incident was intended to be an Israeli attack against Syria. While the situation is still unclear, several things could have occurred. Like any good air force, the IAF has clear standard operating procedures that dictate what a pilot does when his aircraft detects enemy radar illuminating it or identifies a missile launch, or when the pilot visually sees anti-aircraft artillery fire. Under these procedures, the pilot would immediately jettison external fuel tanks or extraneous ordnance in order to facilitate maneuverability and save his aircraft. This is likely what the Syrians are referring to when they accuse Israel of dropping ammunition in the desert. The IAF is the most competent air force in the region. Were it to attempt to strike a target in Syria, that target more than likely would have been hit. Israel Defense Forces remains mum on the subject, and no evidence of an external fuel tank with Israeli markings has yet been presented. Since the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in the summer of 2006, Israel has conducted regular reconnaissance missions into Syria. These overflights are embarrassing for Syria, since the country's air defense is ill-equipped to respond in time. Though Israel and Syria have stepped up rhetoric in recent months, accusing each other of provoking a military conflict, this is largely posturing. Israel has no interest in destabilizing the al Assad regime right now, and though the Syrians will play up Israeli violations of Syrian airspace, they are nowhere near capable or confident enough to start up a military confrontation with the Jewish state.

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