In the late hours of Thursday night and early hours of pre-dawn Friday morning of February 6-7, Israel committed an unthinkable crime.
Not only did it commit an unprovoked act of war and an act of aggression against Syria by waging two waves of airstrikes on several areas in Damascus vicinity and the two southern provinces of Deraa and Quneitra, but has also used a civilian passenger plane with some 172 people on board as a shield to evade reprisal backfiring.
Early reports said that four Israeli (F-16) fighter jets have launched two waves of airstrikes targeting several areas in Damascus outskirts and its countryside, including an absolutely civilian industrial area in al-Tal suburb.
Without entering the Syrian air space, the raiding Israeli warplanes used the Lebanese and the occupied Golan Heights skies as Launch-pads for its strikes.
Syrian air defenses were immediately activated and the majority of these missiles were intercepted and downed before hitting their targets.
This alone is a very serious crime of aggression that should have triggered world-wide condemnation and should have prompted the UN Security Council to convene. Yet, all of this was not the whole story. Soon afterwards, reports showed that the atrocity could have get much uglier.
On Friday, February 7 morning, things got clearer about what has happened in the darkness of the previous night : The raiding Israeli warplanes have not only breached the sovereignty of both Syria and Lebanon, but have also jeopardized the safety of a civilian passenger aircraft that was about to land at Damascus International Airport with some 172 passengers on board.
Thanks only to the vigilance and timely action by Damascus airport traffic controllers, the plane was diverted out of the firing zone and guided to a safe landing at Hmeimiem airport in Latakia.
What has transpired is that Israeli fighter jets have cowardly committed a most heinous act of deception. At best, they were using a civilian passenger plane as a shield to evade Syrian air defense fire and at worst, they were deliberately luring Syrian air defenses to erroneously shoot down a civilian plane and make them look guilty.
In a televised interview with RT English, British activist and former MP George Galloway described the act as a “war crime”, wondering why there seems to be a law for Israel and another law for everyone else.
Under the headline: “Hiding behind passenger planes, Israel’s new dirty tactics?”, Press TV noted that a day after the Russian Defense Ministry said that an Israeli airstrike on the Syrian capital endangered a civilian aircraft with 172 passengers on board, questions have risen over what appears to be an Israeli plot to further escalate the situation in the region.
Many other media outlets reported the incident, which should have prompted world-wide condemnation not only because the airstrikes were unprovoked and unjustifiable but also because they have been launched exactly at the time when Syria was directly engaged in flushing out terrorist hotbeds from its north-western province of Idleb.
The militant groups Syria has been and is still fighting are internationally-designated terror groups that have been routinely shelling the restive population areas of Aleppo and Latakia killing or injuring scores of innocent Syrian civilians.
Hence it was a must for Syria to flush out these terror groups in order to ensure peace and security and re-establish law and order.
The move, however, has upset Turkey’s Erdogan, who sent massive Turkish military reinforcements into Syria, risking a direct confrontation with the Syrian Arab Army.
All of this did not seem to trouble the major Western Capitals. None of them issued even a verbal condemnation of this horrendous Israeli atrocity.
Well, in fact, the UN Security Council did convene for an emergency session on February 7. One would hope that this international body, entrusted with maintaining international peace and security would discuss this most serious development.
But sadly no. To the US, UK and France all of this was not an “issue” of urgency.
Sadly, they summoned the Council to see how they can halt Syria’s advance in liberating its own territories from terrorists, citing alleged “humanitarian concerns”.
Sputnik brought to minds that this was not the first time for Israel to use such a tactic:
“In a similar incident in September 2018, a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane with 15 servicemen on board disappeared from radar screens near Hmeymim Airbase in Syria.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the disappearance coincided with an attack by four Israeli F-16 military jets on Syrian targets in the province of Latakia.
The ministry of Defense stated at the time that the Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as a shield, thereby subjecting it to an attack by the Syrian air defense units, with a Syrian (S-200) missile ultimately downing the Russian aircraft while attempting to repel Israeli strikes.
A total of 15 Russian military servicemen were killed in the aircraft destruction,” raising doubts that such a behavior was not a “coincendence”.
Unacceptable and unprecedented tactic
Sputnik quoted a retired general, who served in the Soviet and Russian air forces for over 40 years, as suggesting that before Israel, no other country in the world could think of using the tactic of hiding behind unarmed aircraft.
This was certainly not the case for Russia’s air force, he stressed, noting that such tactics are “absolutely unacceptable”.
Earlier, in a statement regarding the Thursday morning missile strikes targeting various facilities in Damascus and Syria’s southwest, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov provided new details about the attacks, confirming that they were carried out by four Israeli Air Force F-16s.
According to Konashenkov, at the time of the Israeli assault, a Cham Wings Airbus A320 with 172 passengers on board was preparing to land at the Damascus International Airport, and had to be diverted to prevent a possible accidental shoot-down by Syrian air defenses.
Konashenkov stressed that only the quick-thinking of air traffic controllers and the effective functioning of Syria’s automated air traffic control system ensured that the civilian aircraft was able to safely turn around and land at the nearest standby airport, which happened to be the Hmeymim Airbase in Latakia.
But this was not the first time – minute-by-minute chronology
On September 17, 2018 raiding Israeli F-16 fighters used a Russian plane as a cover for their operations.
A detailed minute-by-minute chronology of the Il-20 downing was given by Russian Ministry of Defense Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov on September 23, 2018, showing Israel’s full culpability :“We believe that the blame for the Russian Il-20 aircraft tragedy lies entirely with the Israeli Air Force,” he said.
The plane was shot down by the Syrian air defense units as Israeli’s F-16s effectively used it as a cover during the attack on its neighbor.
On the evening of September 17, the Russian Ilyushin IL-20 with 15 crew on board was circling over the Idlib de-escalation zone on a special reconnaissance mission, when four Israeli (F-16) fighter jets flew over the neutral Mediterranean waters towards the Syrian coast. The Israeli Air Force gave the Russian side less than a minute’s warning before dropping the precision-guided glide bombs, leaving virtually no time for any safety maneuvers, Konashenkov said, calling such actions “a clear violation of the 2015 Russian-Israeli agreements.”
Moreover, the Israeli military failed to provide the location of their jets or properly specify their targets, claiming they were going to attack several ‘industrial facilities’ in northern Syria, close to the Il-20’s area of operation.
The misinformation prompted the Russian Command to order the recon plane back to the Khmeimim air base. The Israeli jets, however, instead almost immediately attacked the western Syrian Latakia province.
Once the Syrian air defenses responded to the initial strike, the Israeli jets switched on radar jamming and pulled back, apparently preparing for another attack. One of the Israeli jets then came closer to the Syrian coast and approached the Russian plane, which was preparing to land at that time.
The Israeli pilot must have been well aware of the fact that the Il-20 has a much larger radar cross-section than his (F-16), and would become a “preferred target” for the Syrian air defense units, who use different friend-or-foe systems with the Russians, Konashenkov said.
Thus, for the Syrians, the reconnaissance plane could appear as a group of Israeli jets.
The actions of the Israeli fighter pilots, which led to the loss of life of 15 Russian servicemen, either lacked professionalism or were an act of criminal negligence, to say the least.
Finally, the Israeli jets carried out their maneuvers in the immediate vicinity of the Khmeimim air base, which is used both by military and civilian aircraft, including passenger planes, the ministry’s spokesman emphasized, saying that the reckless actions of the Israeli pilots could also have posed a threat to any passenger or transport aircraft that may have happened to be there at that time.
In another incident, the raiding Israeli warplanes in December, 2018, put to risk civilian aircraft in both Syria and Lebanon, prompting the latter to file a complaint at the UN.
Back then, six Israeli F-16 fighter jets flew over Lebanon and launched air strikes against Syria at a time when two civilian passenger planes were preparing to land one at Damascus and the other at Beirut airports respectively.
The move has restricted Syria’s ability to properly shoot back at the raiding warplanes, lest any of the two passenger planes be hit by mistake.
Well, using civilian passenger planes as a cover for an overt act of aggression might indeed restrict the air defenses effectiveness, but such a behavior is an abhorrent act of monstrous cowardice, that should not be allowed to take place with impunity.
Remains to be seen what, if ever, the “civilized” international community would do something to stop such immoral practices.
If they really care for the lives and well-being of civilians, a firm stand against such Israeli recklessness should be taken. This is a litmus test to their “humanitarian concerns”.
But as no major power has moved, Israel once again launched air strikes against Damascus shortly before midnight Thursday, February 13, 2020.
According to a Syrian military source, the missiles were coming from the direction of the occupied Golan. Syrian air defenses engaged the enemy missiles and managed to down a number of them.
Here is a video showing a simulation of the downing of Russian Il-20 in September, 2018. The video was obtained from Sputnik Eng.:
“The Israeli jets saw the Russian Ilyushin Il-20 and used it as a shield against the anti-aircraft missiles, while they carried on maneuvering in the region,” Konashenkov said during a news briefing back then.
Radar data of the Russian air defense system showing positions of 4 Israeli F-16 jets (yellow), the Syrian air defense missile (red), and the Russian Il-20 plane (green) at the time of its downing on September 17, 2018. (Photo by Russian Ministry of Defense)