The Israeli military has regularly used Lebanese airspace over the course of its years-long campaign of preemptive attacks against Syria, knowing full well that Syria’s air defence troops are hesitant about launching interceptor missiles into Lebanon out of fear of escalating tensions with Beirut and concerns about potential civilian casualties.
Lebanon has sent a formal complaint to the United Nations over Tel Aviv’s “blatant” violation of Lebanese airspace following Thursday’s late night attack on Syria, defence minister Zeina Akar has announced.
Syrian media reported late Thursday that air defence troops in Damascus had engaged missiles fired by Israeli fighter jets as they roared over the city, with multiple projectiles seen being intercepted in amateur footage shot by residents in the Syrian capital. Military officials told the Syrian Arab News Agency that “most” of the incoming projectiles were shot down.
According to Lebanese media, the jets flew to their destinations in Syria after flying over the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon at low altitude just a few minutes earlier.
Commenting on the flyover, Akar said the Israeli planes “blatantly violated Lebanon’s airspace at low altitude, causing a state of panic among citizens.”
According to Lebanese media outlet al-Jadeed TV, at least two commercial passenger jets were forced to divert course while on route to Beirut during the attacks, presumably amid fears that they may be shot down. Fadi Al Hassan, director general of civil aviation at Rafic Hariri International Airport, told the network that control towers in Syria and Cyprus had urged the aircraft to change course to avoid being caught in the crossfire.
Civilian aircraft heading towards Beirut airport were affected during the Israeli Air Strike on Syria. pic.twitter.com/6c0kwHsP6H
— INTELSky (@Intel_Sky) August 19, 2021
Lebanese media reported early Friday morning that two errant missiles had fallen in Qalamoun, the mountainous border region separating Syria and Lebanon. The reports did not specify whether the projectiles were among those launched by the Israeli jets during their attack, or interceptor missiles sent up to try and stop them.
Social media users also posted videos purportedly showing the Israeli jets flying over Lebanon.
العدو الصهيوني يشن اعتداء على سوريا من سماء لبنان قرب بيروت وسماع دوي انفجارات في سماء محيط دمشق والمضادات الجوية السورية تتصدى.. حمى الله سوريا وشعبها pic.twitter.com/X3hhvALCUD
— fadi jouni (@fady_jouni) August 19, 2021
Akar said the latest breach of Lebanon’s airspace by Israel constituted a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, the unanimously-adopted measure approved in 2006 and intended to halt the 34-day Lebanon War between Israel and Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah. The UN, Akar said, has an obligation to stop such incidents.
The Lebanese government regularly reports to the UN peacekeeping forces stationed on the border between Lebanon and Israel on Tel Aviv’s alleged violations of its airspace, but to date such complaints appear to have had little impact in halting the incursions.
On Friday, Sheikh Ali al-Khatib, deputy speaker of Lebanon’s Shia Islamic Assembly, slammed Israel over Thursday night’s act of “double aggression” against both Lebanon and Syria, saying that the late-night strikes “threatened the safety of civil aviation in Lebanon and regional security,” and that they were part of a pattern of “repeated attacks and violations” which the United Nations must acknowledge and condemn. Al-Khatib suggested that apart from condemnation of Israel, Lebanese authorities should take steps to “strengthen solidarity and cooperation” between Beirut and Damascus, and to adhere to the principle that “resistance [is] a guarantor to deter aggression and defend sovereignty.”
Israeli officials neither confirmed nor denied the Israeli military’s involvement in Thursday’s attacks, telling media that the Israel Defence Forces do “not comment on foreign media information” as a matter of policy. However, Israeli media have reported that the attack targeted Hezbollah arms depots and positions outside the Syrian cities of Damascus and Homs.
The Lebanese militia group was officially invited into Syria by Damascus in the early 2010s to help the government of Bashar Assad fight off a range of foreign-backed terrorist groups seeking to take control of the country. Israel classifies Hezbollah as a ‘terrorist’ group and has admitted to carrying out ‘hundreds’ of air attacks against the militia and other so-called ‘Iranian proxy’ forces in the war-torn nation over the years.
Syria has received assistance from Russia in the modernization of its air defences in recent years, with Moscow delivering S-300s to the country in 2018 after an Israeli air attack caused Syrian forces to accidentally shoot down a Russian reconnaissance plane, killing all 15 crew members onboard. The Russian military blamed Israel for the incident.
Last month, a spokesman for Russia’s military contingent in Syria told reporters that Russian-made Buk-M2E air defence systems had downed all missiles fired into Syria from Lebanese airspace by a pair of Israeli F-16 fighters in an attack on 22 July. Several more Israeli missiles were downed days later, according to the Russian military.