After citizens of three Middle East countries two nights ago heard the wail of air raid sirens and explosions of missiles in the sky above them, hundreds of thousands of people were terrified and wondered what had happened. In the Arab world, rumors swirled that Arab militants had fired rockets from Jordan toward Jerusalem (a highly improbable scenario). Then the IAF began to release information on the incident: it claimed that its warplanes had attacked a Hezbollah weapons convoy near Palmyra which was transshiping advanced weaponry across Syria. The military further claimed that the Syrians had fired SAM-5 missiles at the planes and that Israel had fired an Arrow interceptor which destroyed one of the SAMs.
As I’ve written here numerous times in the past concerning IDF cover stories, there was something fishy about this one. For one, the Syrians have fired SAMs at IAF jets before without Israel responding by firing any missiles, let alone Arrows. Second, the wide swath over which wreckage of the air encounter was strewn indicated something far more complex than a single Arrow intercepting a single SAM.
As time went by, more details and speculation by experts pointed to discrepancies between the IAF claims and known details about the weaponry involved. The Arrow system is meant to shoot down ballistic missiles. SAMs are not ballistic weapons. They fly much lower and slower than Arrows. In a sense, using it to down a SAM is like using a machine gun to kill a fly. In other words, you just wouldn’t do it.
If it wasn’t a SAM, then what was it? Barbara Opall Rome of Defense News suggests it might be a SCUD missile. That makes more sense and may explain why the IAF released a bogus claim about the type of Syrian weapons. Firing SCUDs would indicate a Syrian intent to retaliate against the Israelis by targeting population centers. If this scenario is correct, then the predictable Israeli response would be another air attack against Syrian SAM launch sites. That hasn’t happened yet. But if/when it does, we will know Opall Rome’s conjecture is correct.
Retired MIT Prof. Ted Postol reviewed the photographs and IAF account: he confirmed a portion of Opall Rome’s report. The Syrian missile could not be a SAM. He could not say for sure what weapon it was, because Israel has released no ground photographs of the remains of what the Arrow hit. Postol added that the carcass which landed in Jordan was the first stage of the Arrow (see slideshow), which is jettisoned in flight.
News media have noted that this is the first time Israel has publicly acknowledged attacking Hezbollah targets in Syria. But this incident marks even more ominous “firsts.” It marks a significant escalation of the Israeli-Syrian rivalry. It threatens to draw other neighbors like Jordan into the conflict (the remnants which fell to the ground could easily have killed people). This is a warning by an Assad growing in power that Israel will pay for future incursions into Syrian territory. The Israeli response, if there is one, could significantly escalate tension and draw it even more overtly into the conflict against the regime.
Russia summoned Israel’s ambassador to the Kremlin over this incident. I’ve never heard of Putin doing this before. It would indicate his extreme displeasure at Israel’s latest invasion of Syrian sovereignty and mark a new flexing of muscle on the part of Assad and his Russian ally. This may mean that Israel will have less maneuvering room in future in its ongoing combat against it’s Lebanese arch-enemy, Hezbollah. Alternatively, the Russians may be urging the Israelis not to retaliate against the Syrians for launching the SCUDs at Israel. It’s not in Russia’s interests to have yet another power intervening overtly in Syria and mucking things up even worse than they already are.