Israel conducted an overnight airstrike in Syria on March 16-17, drawing fire from Syrian air defenses in the process. Though Damascus claims that its missiles hit and downed one Israeli aircraft while damaging another, the Israeli government has denied that any of its assets were struck. So far there is no evidence to support Syria's statement, and this would not be the first time Damascus has made such claims that proved untrue. Nevertheless, Israel acknowledged for the first time that it was forced to use its Arrow missile defense system to bring down a Syrian air defense missile. It also admitted to launching an airstrike inside Syria, something it has typically avoided doing in the past.
The actual target of Israel's airstrike was not Syrian, but Lebanese. It appears that the air raid, which took place near Palmyra, was meant to destroy an alleged arms convoy of Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group based in Lebanon and backed by Iran with deep enmity toward Israel. Four Israeli aircraft reportedly entered Syria from Lebanese airspace and attacked the convoy near Syria's T4 air base, killing Hezbollah military leader Badie Hamya.
It isn't unusual for Israel to launch airstrikes against Hezbollah positions in Syria. After all, Israel is constantly working to block the delivery of better weapons systems to the militant group from the Syrian battlefield. But Israel's admission that it intercepted a Syrian air defense missile is notable. Though it is not clear what type of air defense missile the Syrians used — some say it was an SA-5/S-200 — blocking a fast-moving air defense missile is far more difficult than intercepting slower, more predictable ballistic missiles, mortar rounds or artillery rockets. That said, the SA-5 is also much slower and less maneuverable than most of its modern counterparts, making it easier for Israel's swift fighter aircraft to counter. Likely believing the projectile to be a ballistic missile headed for Israel, the Israeli government was particularly motivated to intercept it as quickly as possible.
If Israel's account of last night's events is true, it would signal the Arrow system's efficacy and the Israeli government's ability to issue a rapid response, demonstrating how comprehensive the missile defenses protecting the small country truly are. Israel has been developing an extensive layered missile defense network made up of the Iron Dome, Iron Beam, David's Sling and Arrow systems. Together, these systems better equip Israel to protect itself from the considerable threat of missile attacks it faces in the region from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Palestinian militants in Gaza, and more distant adversaries such as Iran.