Syria fired three surface-to-air missiles at Israeli jets on Thursday night as the fighter planes flew over Syrian airspace.
The incident, which saw a rare Syrian state response, occurred as Israeli jets hit a range of targets to in its northern neighbour, including a Hezbollah-bound convoy, similar to sorties they have undertaken several times in recent years.
The three Russian-made SA-5 anti-aircraft missiles are understood to have failed to hit their target, despite the Syrian army saying it shot down one of the jets. There is no evidence that it did, but the incident did trigger warning sirens in Israel.
The Times of Israel reports that the Syrian missiles were intercepted by an Israeli Air Force Arrow missile battery, which are designed to thwart incoming ballistic missiles aimed at targets on land, rather than targets in the air.
The timing of the incident was apt, as analysts in London recalled the circumstances leading up to the Six-Day War in 1967 almost 50 years ago, when Israeli forces inflicted a devastating defeat on three Arab neighbours – including Syria.
Speaking at a BICOM-RUSI conference, experts and academics said the conflict began with Soviet intelligence delivered to Col. Nasser in Cairo, warning that Israel was about to attack Syria.
On 13 May 1967, the Soviets told Nasser that the Israelis were about to attack Syria, in 4-5 days’ time. That night, Nasser met his army chief at his villa and they made a decision to strike.
Analysing the consequences was a panel was chaired by Greg Shapland, Associate Fellow at Chatham House, who previously worked on the Middle East desk at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and comprising Dr Arhan Bregman from King’s College, London and Guy Laron from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Laron asked: “Why would Israel want to attack Syria? Why should it concern Egypt? And how were the Soviets involved?” The context was an “Arab cold war,” he said, with states distrustful of one another. Syria’s instability – having had 17 military coups in 22 years – was another factor. But it was partially accidental that the three states ended up at war with Israel.
“None of them wanted to confront Israel on the battlefield, because it was seen as being militarily formidable, nevertheless to score points with the Arab public, Arab leaders kept egging each other on,” said Laron.