Israel’s military said Monday it carried out an air strike on an anti-aircraft battery in Syria after it fired toward its planes, while vowing it sought no further escalation in the war-torn country.
Israeli planes were on what the military described as a routine reconnaissance mission over neighbouring Lebanon when an anti-aircraft missile was fired in their direction, a military spokesman said.
The planes returned safely, according to the spokesman, adding it was believed the anti-aircraft battery in Syria was destroyed.
“We hold the Syrian regime responsible for the anti-aircraft fire and any attack originating from Syria,” Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus told journalists.
Israel “will maintain its ability to thwart hostile intentions and activities endangering Israeli civilians,” he said.
He did not specify how many Israeli planes were involved in the reconnaissance mission, but described them as being “in proximity to the Syrian border.”
The battery targeted was located some 50 kilometres (31 miles) east of Damascus.
It was believed to be the first time since Syria’s civil war began that Israeli planes were fired toward while in Lebanese airspace, said Conricus.
However, Israel’s military said it had no interest in any further escalation.
“Israel has no intention to destabilise the situation,” said Conricus.
Israel has sought to avoid becoming more directly involved in the six-year civil war in neighbouring Syria, though it acknowledges carrying out dozens of air strikes to stop what it calls advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.
The Lebanese Shiite group is backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the conflict. Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating war in 2006.
In March, Israeli warplanes struck several targets in Syria, drawing retaliatory missile fire in the most serious incident between the two countries since the start of the Syrian war.
At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the air strikes targeted weapons bound for Hezbollah and that Israel would do the same again if necessary.
Syria’s military had said it launched anti-aircraft missiles at the aircraft, claiming it had downed an Israeli plane and hit another as they carried out pre-dawn strikes near the desert city of Palmyra.
Israel denied any of its aircraft was hit.
During the sortie, Israel fired its Arrow interceptor to take out what was believed to have been a Russian-made SA 5 missile.
In the aftermath, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to destroy Syrian air defence systems “without the slightest hesitation” if they fired on Israeli planes in future.
Monday’s strike comes with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu due to visit Israel later in the day. Russia is also backing Assad in the Syrian conflict.
Russia and Israel have established a hotline to avoid accidental clashes in Syria.
“The Russians were notified in real time,” Conricus said of the strike.
Shoigu and Lieberman were expected to discuss Syria and Iran’s presence there.
Iran, Israel’s main enemy, backs Assad in the war along with Russia. Israel is concerned Iran will establish a permanent military presence along its border.
Putin Turning Blind Eye to Israeli Attacks
The attack on the so-called “Ramadan” SA-5 battery, which was situated about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Damascus, was well within the area covered by Russian anti-aircraft batteries and fighter planes operating from the Khmeimim air base on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, according to Israeli website Haaretz.
Some Israeli military planners reportedly have been surprised that Russia hasn’t acted to curb Israeli operations in its new sphere of influence. But those close to President Vladimir Putin’s thinking were already predicting such a situation in September 2015, when the first Russian Sukhoi aircraft landed in Khmeimim.