Syria Retaliates Against Israeli Airstrikes as Tensions Escalate

  • Hebrew media says Israel deployed Arrow anti-ballistic system
  • Israeli army responds with rare public communique on attack

An Israeli F-35 fighter jet.

Photographer: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli airstrikes on Syrian targets overnight triggered the most visible skirmish between the two neighbors since Syria’s civil war began in 2011.

The Israeli army on Friday confirmed the attack. Syria responded by firing several missiles at the aircraft -- one of which was intercepted by Israel’s air defense systems. Syria used Russian-made SA-5 surface-to-air missiles and Israel responded with its new anti-ballistic Arrow system, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

The exchange indicates that tensions may be escalating between the two countries as Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad tighten their grip after years of civil war. That could make it harder for Israel to prevent weapons being smuggled from Syria to the militant group Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon.

The missiles triggered Israel’s emergency sirens, which may have forced the army to issue a rare communique confirming the skirmish. “At no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the IAF aircraft compromised,” it said. Syrian state television later said an Israeli jet was hit, a claim Israel denied.

It isn’t the first time that Syria has fired anti-aircraft missiles at Israel, but it was the first time that Israel officially deployed the Arrow system, Haaretz said. The system was developed with financial backing from the U.S. in response to Arab states’ long-range surface-to-surface missiles.