Russia says it received no warning from Israel before Syria military airport attack

According to Syrian media, a number of missiles struck targets at the base near Homs, and a monitoring group said it killed at least 14 people

Oliver Carroll
Monday 09 April 2018 13:16 BST
Video shows missiles over Homs, Syria as airstrikes hit the country following chemical weapons attack

Moscow says it received no warning from the Israeli government before a missile strike on a Syrian military airport near Homs on Sunday night.

Russia's Ministry of Defence almost immediately blamed Israel for the attack on Syria's T4 base — wrongfooting expectations that the United States would strike first. In a statement, the ministry said two Israeli F-15 jets had launched a total eight missiles from Lebanese territory.

According to Syrian media, three of the missiles struck targets at the base. A monitoring group said the attack killed at least 14 people, some of them members of a Shia militia supporting the Assad regime. Israel has not commented on the matter.

No Russian servicemen were injured in the course of the attack. But Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's spokesman, told reporters the surprise strikes were a "cause of concern" given the numbers of Russian servicemen posted to airfields in Syria. The Kremlin has raised the matter with Israeli authorities "on the appropriate channels", he said.

Military-to-military relations between Russia and Israel are considered to be close. Moscow has just recently entertained Israeli military delegations, and was warned about previous airstrikes. Today's decision to leave the Kremlin in the dark is an unusual signal. Reports that the Pentagon was, on the contrary, warned, will not have reduced the Kremlin's displeasure.

Moscow had warned of an uncompromising military response to attacks on Syrian military targets. In March, head of General Staff Valery Gerasimov said Russia would "take retaliatory measures against the missiles and launchers used" if it deemed its servicemen were at risk.

In the same statement, Mr Gerasimov claimed the United States was preparing to fake a chemical weapons attack in rebel-held Damascus suburbs — and to use it as a pretext to bomb government-controlled parts of the city.

When, indeed, reports of a chemical weapons attack filtered through on April 7, Russia's Foreign Ministry reissued the earlier warning. Russian servicemen were on a peacekeeping mission, helping Syrian government troops, it said in a press statement. Any external military engagement "could have the most serious of consequences."

The fierce rhetoric raised the possibility of direct engagement with the United States were it to launch an attack on Syrian airbases.

Little is clear about the logic of the Monday-morning Israeli operation — not least the level of coordination with Washington. But the fall-out will do little to reduce tension between the superpowers.

"[Israeli Prime Minister] Netenyahu is jumping out of his pants to get [US President] Trump to hit Assad," the former Kremlin advisor Vladimir Frolov told The Independent. "Together with Assad, he is goading Russia and the US into war."

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in