Israel Bombed Damascus — And Didn’t Need Stealth Fighters to Do It
Contrary to reports, the F-35 probably sat out 2017 raids
Early in the morning on March 17, 2017, the Israeli air force carried out an air strike near Damascus.
The Israeli jets hit Mezzeh military airport, an airbase situated southwest of the old center of Damascus, where a local ammunition depot and a few other military installation were reportedly hit with a surgical strike.
It was the second time that Israel struck Mezzeh in 2017. On the night of Jan. 12 to 13, 2017, Israeli jets reportedly targeted a Pantis-S1 mobile surface-to-air missile system warehouse at the base.
Le Figaro journalist Georges Malbrunot claimed that Israel’s brand-new F-35s took part in the January raid. In fact, although Israel has often been quick to put new assets into action, the F-35’s participation in both the January and March attacks seems unlikely.
The Syrian military claimed that four Israeli jets breached Syrian airspace on March 17. One aircraft was shot down and another one was damaged, the Syrians reported. There’s no evidence that any Israeli plane was hit, much less destroyed.
Indeed, the Israeli air force typically employs weapons with the range and targeting capabilities to hit Syrian targets from inside Lebanese airspace. With a range of little less than 50 miles, electro-optical and infrared targeting and a 750-pound warhead, the Popeye would have been a good choice for the March attack.
Israeli air force F-35I. Israeli air force photo
Although unlikely, it’s possible that the Israelis deployed the Delilah air-to-surface missile, instead. The Delilah is a low-speed, loitering weapon that can strike moving targets and be reprogrammed after launch.
Still, its small, 66-pound warhead is a poor choice for a large target such as a warehouse. The same can be said for the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. The folding wings of that glide weapon give it the requisite range, but the small warhead makes the weapon a less attractive choice for destroying fixed installations.
While acknowledging the raid “on several targets” in Syria on March 17, the Israeli Defense Forces denied any of its jets was harmed by Syrian air defenses.
“At no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the [Israeli air force] aircraft compromised,” an Israeli military spokesman told The Jerusalem Post.
According to the Israeli military, Syrian anti-aircraft missiles did launch toward the Israeli planes. “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 system. However, the Arrow-3 is highly maneuverable system designed to intercept ballistic missiles when they are still outside Earth’s atmosphere.
Other sources said the Syrian SAM was intercepted by an Arrow-2, a conventional air-defense system more likely to be employed against, say, a Syrian SA-5 — considering the size, operating altitude and range of this surface-to-air missile.
Regardless, Israeli jets have been able to operate almost freely in or close to Syria, hitting targets across the country with guided weapons without the Syrian Arab Air Force posing any real threat to the Israeli attackers. It’s likely Israel employed powerful electronic warfare during the strikes.
The last time Syrian air defenses shot down a foreign aircraft was back in 2012, when a Turkish air force RF-4E violated Syrian airspace over the Mediterranean Sea and was hit by anti-aircraft artillery fire.