In unlikely clash, Russian planes challenge Israeli jets over Lebanon

Source: i24NEWS – In unlikely clash, Russian planes challenge Israeli jets over Lebanon

Russian Air Force Su-24 bombers fly during a military exercise in southern Russia on February 11, 2015
Russia and Israel have opened a coordination hotline to avoid clashes in Syrian Civil War

Israeli warplanes were intercepted by Russian fighter jets in Lebanese airspace on Monday morning, in what was deemed an unlikely clash between the two countries who have reached an agreement on averting confrontation in Syria and the wider region, according to a report by Hadashot news.

The two Israeli Air Force F-16 jets were said to have been been challenged by the Russian Sukhoi SU-34 jets over Tripoli, the report claimed citing Russian and Lebanese media outlets.

A video circulated on social media showed Russian planes flying over Lebanon but there was no sign of any Israeli jets. Russia and Israel were yet to confirm the validity of the reports.

It was suggested, according to the Hadashot report, that the Russian planes were partaking in drills off the Lebanese coast but were forced to land due to bad weather conditions. However, Al Masdarnews said the reason for operation was unspecified, adding that this was the first time in months that Russian planes had flown over Lebanon.

A host of previous reports, have alleged that Israel has targeted Iranian-operated bases in Syria from Lebanese airspace.

On Thursday, Lebanese media reported a heavy presence of Israeli air crafts flying over the Lebanese capital of Beirut and the Lebanese coast during an airstrike on an airbase near Homs said to have been in the vicinity of Hezbollah weapons warehouse facilities. As per routine policy, Israel has refused to confirm its responsibility for the attack.

IDF Press release: A New Age in the IAF
F-35 ‘Adir’ stealth aircraft fighters for IAF 

IDF Press release: A New Age in the IAF

Last week, the head of Israel’s Air Force Amiram Norkin, showed a picture of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jet — a warplane that has conducted airstrikes previously — flying near Beirut.

Russia and Israel have conflicting interests in the delicately-balanced seven-year long Syrian Civil War. Israel’s arch regional foe Iran is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally alongside Russia and Lebanese-based Iranian proxy Hezbollah.

Whilst Israel is careful to navigate its relations with Russia, it is hellbent on preventing Iran from gaining a foothold in Syria and entrenching itself permanently, thus often leading to a clash of interests between Russia and the Jewish State.

In order to limit a confrontation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin frequently. “We have a telephone hotline between the IDF and Russian contingent,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said earlier this month, in an interview with Russian Kommersant daily newspaper.

“We always take into account the Russian interests in Syria and very much hope that Russia will also take into account Israel’s interests related to our security,” he added.

Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman visiting army forces in the West Bank on May 23 2018. 

Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense

However, senior air force officials as cited by the Times of Israel, stated that the coordination mechanism in place has its limitations. For example, Israel does not always inform Russia ahead of conducting strikes its Syria, and Russia does not always brief Israel on its actions in the region.

Also, in a separate interview with Israel’s Walla news, Liberman stated that Israel “will not accept any restrictions when it comes to Israeli security interests.”

Whilst Israel does not admit to all the recent strikes in Syria, it acknowledges launching a number of raids in the war-torn country to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah. The most recent took place last Thursday when Israeli fighter jets were alleged to have attacked an airbase near Homs.

“We told the Russians that we were going to strike in Syria, but we didn’t tell them where we exactly were striking or what the targets were,” the senior officer said, as cited by the Times of Israel.

On Sunday Netanyahu said at his annual cabinet meeting that Israel was taking action to “prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons” and also working “against the establishment of an Iranian military presence against us.” Adding that, “to this end, we are also operating against the transfer of deadly weapons from Syria to Lebanon or their manufacture in Lebanon.”

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