For years, Israel has been concerned about Syrian weapons getting into the hands of the terrorist group, Hezbollah (“Israel Steps up Shadow War with Hezbollah”, middle-east-online, January 16, 2017). Hezbollah is based in Lebanon. It is virulently anti-Israel.
Israel’s Air Force (IAF) has been flying sorties into Syria to keep those weapons from reaching Lebanon. Typically, Israel doesn’t publicize these IAF missions. But Syria’s efforts to trans-ship weapons to Hezbollah has changed. So has Israel’s response (Ed Blanche, “Israel steps up shadow war with Hezbollah“, upi, January 17, 2017). Now, there’s been yet another change.
Early morning, Friday, March 17, 2017, three things happened to highlight these changes. First, the IAF attacked a truck convoy in Syria (David Israel, “IAF Overnight Mission in Syria, ‘Arrow’ Used in Real Battle Conditions”, jewishpress, March 17, 2017). The attack was some 200+ km north of the Israel-Syria border. It was in Syria, East of Baalbek, Lebanon and north of Damascus (ibid)—possibly near Palmyra, Syria. According to a map-check, the attack took place some 350+ kilometers north-northeast from my home—and the missiles could have been fired at IAF planes at 200-300 kilometers from my home (as the Israeli planes approached their target).
Israel media sources said the target was a shipment of Syrian weapons being sent by Syria westward into Lebanon, for Hezbollah (ibid). But Arab sources claimed this shipment was ‘special’. It contained advanced North Korean missiles (“PM Netanyahu Explains Reason for the Airstrike on Syria”, jewishpress, March 18, 2017).
For Israel, that’s a serious change. Hezbollah has more than 100,000 rockets already aimed at Israel (Avi Issacharoff, “Israel raises Hezbollah rocket estimate to 150,000”, timesofisrael, November 12, 2015). The introduction of ‘advanced’ missiles, if true, would represent a qualitative strengthening of Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal.
While we don’t know if this convoy was carrying ordinary weapons for Hezbollah or advanced weapons, we do know this: whatever that convoy was carrying, there’s no source anywhere reporting how the Israeli government found out about the convoy’s existence, its travel schedule and its location. Thankfully for us, no one’s talking about that.
The second thing that happened was that the IAF actually made this attack public. That’s a change (“IAF overnight mission…”, ibid). Why did it publicize this particular attack?
One possible explanation has to do with that ‘Arrow’ missile Israel used against the Syria anti-aircraft missile (Ahronheim, ibid). This was the first time the ‘Arrow’ system was used in combat. Did Israel want the world to know it had upgraded its missile defense system? We don’t know.
The third thing that happened affected my family. While this last item has no direct bearing on the Israel-Syria conflict, it does lead to a reason why the IDF publicized the attack.
When this attack occurred (between 0240-0250 hours), my family was awakened by two loud BOOMs east of our home. Everyone in our area who heard the two BOOMs understood immediately they were explosions. They were loud enough to be rocket attacks from Gaza. Were they? No one knew.
After daybreak Friday morning, news stories revealed that the explosions were impact BOOMs from the two Syrian missiles which had missed the IAF jets. One rocket fell in Jordan (BOOM). The second fell just a few miles from us (BOOM). Neither missile caused damage.
The attack had been 300+ kilometres away. From reading about the 2014 Gaza war, I knew Gazan rockets had a range of up to 160-170 kilometers. Were we now being informed that Syria had missiles that could travel 300+ kilometres? No one knew.
Later in the day, a picture appeared from Jordan, due-east of our home. It showed a missile resting against a low wall in what looks like a residential area. The tip of the missile had been crushed, presumably from impact with the ground. The caption identified the missile as one shot at Israeli planes by Syrians earlier that morning.
The missile was quickly identified as a Russian S-200 surface-to-air missile (“Report: Syrian Army Fired S-200 Missiles at Israeli Jets”, russiainsider, March 17, 2017). The S-200 carries a warhead of up-to-217 kilograms (“SA-5 Gammon [Russian name:] S-200 Angara Vega Dubna Ground-to-air missile system”, armyrecognition, 2017). Its published range is up to 300 km (ibid).
One inference from that picture is that those two Syrian missiles, failing to hit a plane, had continued to fly upward, pointing southward from their point-of-origin. When the missiles flamed out, they turned downward, heading south until impact. Both fell in “civilian areas”--one in Jordan, one in Israel close enough to my home to rattle windows.
Perhaps the picture from Jordan explains why the IAF went public: to tell Jordanian civilians—and Jordan’s ruler--that the missile they’d ‘received’ hadn’t come from Israel, but from Syrians.
Is this why the IAF publicized the attack—to calm Jordanian nerves? No one knows. But then, this is Israel—where little is known and much is understood.