Syria claims it shot down an Israeli combat plane; Israel denies: dissecting the latest IAF strike on Damascus

Mar 17 2017 - 26 Comments

According to a Syrian Army statement, an Israeli jet involved in a raid over Syria was shot down. The Israeli Air Force denies.

Early in the morning on Mar. 17, the Israeli Air Force carried out an air strike near Damascus, in Syria.

The Israeli jets hit Mezzeh Military Airport, an airbase located south-west of the old centre of Damascus, where a local ammunition depot and a few other military installation were reportedly hit with a surgical strike.

Just a few ago, citing French intelligence sources, Le Figaro’s journalist Georges Malbrunot, said the brand new Israeli F-35Is,  had already had their combat debut over Syria on the night of Jan. 12-13 (only one month after being delivered!) targeting a Pantis-S1 mobile SAM system warehouse located at Mezzeh.

Although the IAF has often been quick to put new assets into action, the (obviously unconfirmed nor denied) F-35’s participation in both the January and today’s raids seems to be pretty unlikely.

The Syrian military said a total of four IAF jets breached the Syrian airspace: one aircraft was shot down whereas another one was damaged. At the time of writing, such claims have not been backed by any evidence so far.

Actually, the IAF utilizes weapons with the range and targeting capabilities required to hit the target from inside Lebanese airspace, without intruding the Syrian one. With a range of little less than 50NM, the EO/IR targeting and large 750-lb warhead the Popeye, could easily be the weapon of choice for the Mezzeh raid.

Although unlikely, it is still possible that the Israelis used the Delilah air to surface missile, a low-speed, loitering weapon that could strike moving targets and be reprogrammed after launch. Still, its small 66-lb warhead is a poor choice for a large target such as a warehouse. Same can be said for the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.  The folding wings of the glide weapon give the requisite range but the small warhead makes the weapon a less attractive choice.

While acknowledging the raid “on several targets” in Syria (something quite unusual), the Israeli Defence Forces have denied any of the jets was harmed by the Syrian Air Defence.

“At no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the IAF [Israeli Air Force] aircraft compromised,” an Israeli military spokesman said, according to the Jerusalem Post.

According to the Israeli military the jets were targeted with Syrian anti-aircraft missiles “of which one was intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system, heard as far away as Jerusalem, and two others landing in Israel but causing no damage or injuries.”

Some media outlets have reported that one Syrian missile was intercepted by the Arrow-3 anti-missile defense system, Israel’s most advanced Arrow system. However, the Arrow-3 is highly maneuverable system designed to intercept ballistic missiles when they are still outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Other sources said the Syrian SAM was intercepted by a Arrow-2, an air defense system more likely to be employed against an SA-5 considered the size, operating altitude and range of this surface-to-air missile.

Anyway, the one conducted earlier today is just the last of long series of raids carried out (without any apparent issue) by the Israeli Air Force in the last year.

The IAF jets have proved to be able to operate almost freely in (or close to) the Syrian airspace, hitting targets across the country with PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) without the SyAAF (Syrian Arab Air Force) being able to pose a real threat to the Israeli attack planes that most probably enjoy a solid and effective EW (Electronic Warfare) cover during the air strikes. Without even requiring any stealth capability. At least until they need to operate well inside an S-300 or S-400’s MEZ (Missile Engagement Zone).

The last time the Syrian Air Defenses shot down a foreign aircraft was back in 2012, when a Turkish Air Force RF-4E that had shortly violated the Syrian airspace over the Mediterranean Sea was hit by anti-aircraft artillery fire.

Image credit: Israeli Air Force

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  • leroy

    Very good – an excellent, detailed report by David Cenciotti. Do I believe the Syrian report where they claim to have shot down an Israeli jet? Not on your life! Israeli ECM systems are too sophisticated, too bullet-proof to be gotten the better of by any Russia-made SAM system.

    If indeed the IAF used F-35Is for the attack, a parrot would have a better chance of taking down an eagle than a Russian SAM would have of taking down an F-35. There is no way in hell! Not even S300/400 can engage F-35. The plane was built with systems just like those in mind. Russian surface-to-air missile electronics are no match.

    • corners

      People get lucky sometimes though. Had it been shot down Israel would have still denied it.

    • NATOcracy

      Oh no, it can’t be. The F-117 was also built to avoid radar detection but was shot down with an outdated S-125 from the 60’s. The second one was also hit but managed to limp back but was scrapped after that.

      Stealth simply doesn’t work for radars with a longer wavelength.

      While not claiming that any jet was shot down, Syrian SA-5s were seriously upgraded recently and S-300/400 can just send them a target.

      • VarkViper

        Dredging up Serbian propaganda are we? Didn’t they shoot down 8 F-117s and a B-2…….but inconveniently only could show that solitary F-117? Oh, and the 2 Apaches they shot down but crashed in Albania. Why is it that the fictitious shoot downs always crash outside the bound of the propagandists?

        • NATOcracy

          “Of the three aircraft shot down during our incursion into Serbia, one was an F–16 flown by a pilot doing other than he was directed to do, and two were the most stealthy F–117 Night Hawks, one of which staggered back to its home base never to fly again, so it is seldom counted.”

          DESCRIPTION OF OUR FAILING DEFENSE ACQUSITION
          SYSTEM
          Everest E. Riccioni
          Col. USAF, Ret.

    • Cocidius

      Since there are no S-400 SAM systems available to test against the F-35 either in the US or any of our military partner nations please post the source of your information.

    • Pacemaker4

      hehe DOTE report say the planes would need support from legacy aircraft to locate radars.
      page 72, “If used in combat, F-35 aircraft will need support to locate and avoid modern threat ground radars, acquire targets, and engage formations of enemy fighter aircraft, due to unresolved performance deficiencies and limited weapons carriage available (i.e., two bombs and two air-to-air missiles).”
      or
      page 69, “Many pilots assess and report that the Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) on the F-35 is inferior to those currently on legacy systems, in terms of providing the pilot with an ability to discern target features and identify targets at tactically useful ranges, along with maintaining target identification and laser designation throughout the attack. Environmental effects, such as high humidity, often forced pilots to fly closer to the target than desired in order to discern target features and then engage for weapon employment, much closer than needed with legacy systems, potentially alerting the enemy, exposing the F-35 to threats around the target area or requiring delays to regain adequate spacing to set up an attack.”

      so I guarentee they werent flying the f-35’s….

  • Maybe they shot down a drone?

  • ghostmourn

    interestingly the Israelis claimed to have shot down a Syrian SAM (SA-5 i think.) with an Arrow missile.

  • rats123

    Syria shot down an Israeli drone and also an F16 in September last year. Here is the article from CNN:

    http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/13/middleeast/syria-israel-warplane-denial/

    Of course Israel denied this BUT only a mere couple of weeks later Israel admitted the loss of an F16 citing “It’s still unclear why pilot and navigator, who was likely injured, decided to abandon their F-16 when preparing to land at the Air Force base in the Negev. ”

    Read more here: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.745980

    This is how Israel, and the US, cover up their aircraft losses. It is always technical faults, pilot error etc. They will NEVER admit they were shot down by the enemy for obvious reasons.

    Now in the latest bombing raid Syria has again claimed they have shot down an Israeli aircraft. I won’t be too surprised if we hear about an Israeli aircraft crashing due to technical problems in the next few weeks.

  • leroy

    According to news reports, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to destroy Syrian air defence systems after they fired ground-to-air missiles at Israeli warplanes carrying out strikes.

    “The next time the Syrians use their air defence systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Lieberman said on Israeli public radio.

    S400 supposedly “protecting” all Syrian airspace? F-35I will hopefully soon be tasked with taking it out. I can’t wait to hear what the plane’s critics and Russia fanboys have to say after that happens. Hopefully the F-35s also get a chance to engage and destroy Su-30/35 when it pays a visit over Syria. That would be icing on the cake!

    • Karl Pershing

      So are you saying that mosquito size Israel is going to Challenge the Russian bear? The largest country on earth?

      • leroy

        In Syria? Yes, they could easily. Once they have their now-ordered 75 F-35s, likely they could take on and defeat the entire Russian AF. When you have a kill ration of 20:1, it doesn’t take much expertise in fighter aviation to envision the damage the Israelis could do to the entirety of the RuAF. Also, Israel will incorporate their own very advanced ECM and impressive Israeli-made weapons.

        … and don’t tell me; “Well, they will have the PAK FA/T-50.” First it is inferior to the F-35, and second the Russians are so poor they’ll only be able to afford a few of them. Maybe 50 or so – IF they can finalize the design and find the rubles. That is doubtful.

    • Gary Sellars

      S-400 only protects Russian bases and forces. It is not protecting Syrian national forces.

      Your scenario would only come to pass if the IAF were to attack Russian forces, and we all know that will not happen. Of course, there is probably nothing to stop Russia from alerting the SAAF defenses in the event of an Israeli attack….

      The real question is why does Israel feel it has the right to attack Syrian forces in Syria whenever it feels like it, and to do so with complete impunity? They seem to be hugely out of sorts that the Syrians dared shoot at their warplanes after the “most moral military in the world” selflessly dropped their “freedom bombs”….

      • Assitch

        That’s Syria’s price to pay for supporting Hezbollah

  • Cocidius

    It’s unlikely that any Israeli aircraft were lost in the Syrian raid. Through the wonders of the internet someone would have posted video or photos of the aircraft going down or wreckage by now.

    • Gary Sellars

      Not if it crashed in Israeli military zone.

  • Karl Pershing

    It seems this time Israel is planing to start a world war. Germany has become irrelevant! LOL

  • NATOcracy

    You could try to sell that BS with the bomb bay doors to someone else. You could find the pilot’s interview, it’s widely available.

    Current stealth technologies are only working in a centimeter range to some extent, in a decimeter and meter range doesn’t. Simple physics.

    • Uniform223

      Also simple physics, those longer wave lengths are nowhere as accurate for any useful tracking or targeting. Also simple fact those longer wave lengths are easier to spoof and jam. Those types of radars are used as early warning and are always the first to be targeted.

      • rats123

        Modern DSPs solve the problem of inaccuracy.

  • rats123

    It may or may not have. We don’t know. It is just damning that Israel admits a loss a very short period after Syria claims a shoot down. That is how this game is played.

  • Gary Sellars

    Which means you have no clue….

  • David Doumèche

    Can you people stop with that bomb bay nonsense ? the downed F-117 wasn’t about to release its load, and it’s stealth is not full spectrum. Morever Pentagon retired the whole fleet after war

  • rats123

    LOL! This is very funny. Israel is the best at covering up its combat losses. They’ve had F15s and F16s shot down by Syrian migs but always claim technical issues or SAMs. Reason is simply it is very embarrassing to admit being beaten by poorly trained Syrians flying outdated Migs.

  • Terminator

    Israelis are liars. Everybody knows that Hahaha!