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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Turkey demands an explanation

Apparently the Syrians weren't making up the story about Israeli jets flying over Syria. Two fuel tanks from an Israeli fighter plane have been found in a field in Turkey near its border with Syria and the Turks are demanding an explanation:
An unnamed Turkish official demanded explanations from Israel, Saturday, after fuel tanks allegedly dropped by Israel F-151 planes who were conducting a foray into Syrian airspace Wednesday overnight, were found on the Turkish Syrian border.


The Turkish paper Hurriyet published blurry photos [see picture at top left. CiJ]of what it claimed were detachable fuel tanks of the Israeli planes. The tanks were found near the Turkey-Syria border. [A picture of the field where the tank was found is below. CiJ]

Reportedly Turkey was demanding whether the Israeli planes also passed over its own airspace.

For IAF planes to be found over Turkey - or for that matter apparently over Syria - is not an unusual event.
It should be noted that IAF jets regularly practice in Turkish airspace with Turkish consent, and that the Turkish air force conducts joint drills with the IAF and the American Air Force (USAF) on a regular basis.

Earlier Saturday, Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee told Israel Radio that "Israel and Syria don't have an interest in conflict, and the United States, along with Arab countries, are making sure not to cause unnecessary tension."

Hanegbi also responded to comments made Friday by Science, Culture and Sports Minister Ghaleb Majadle's - comments which marked the first official Israeli response since IAF jets flew over Syria on Thursday. Majadle said that IAF planes enter Syrian airspace on a daily basis, and that he did not believe the latest alleged incident would spark off a war. [I guess that confirms this story from the blogger in Damascus. CiJ]

"The minister should show more restraint with his words," Hanegbi said, adding that "it was unacceptable to speak to the media on matters unrelated to his office." [That's what you get for giving an 'Israeli Arab' state secrets. CiJ]

Majadle told the Nazareth-based A-Sinara newspaper that while he had no specific information about the latest alleged operation, it was likely that "the planes either entered Syrian airspace to take photographs or in error."


Hanegbi went on to say that Israel's silence regarding Thursday's incident was coordinated with the US. He added, however, that "Syria has recently invested unprecedented amounts of money on weapons deals, the likes of which we haven't seen since the fall of the former Soviet Union."
And then there's this interesting possible scenario:
Earlier in the day an anonymous Israeli source reportedly told the Arab daily Al Arabiya that the IAF jets were on a mission to neutralize Russian-made surface-to-air missile (SAM) anti-aircraft batteries recently deployed by Syria along its Mediterranean coast.

According to Army Radio, the Israeli source did not specify the exact type of target, or its exact location.
I don't believe that one. If that were the mission, they would have sent more planes.

Haaretz has a map of the Syrian account of the mission. I'm reproducing a miniaturized version of the map so we can see what happened. I don't think the flight path is correct. I find it hard to believe that the Syrians stayed silent with an Israeli plane flying that far across their country. Further, if the Israeli plane(s) were on a mission to destroy SAMs, and the SAM location is near where they dropped the fuel tanks (or further east), I find it hard to believe that they would have taken the risk of having the plane(s) in hostile territory for that long. I think they flew further north - along the border - and that they tried to duck into Syria right in the area where the fuel tanks were dropped. I also think they had Turkish permission to fly there, since we seem to have decent relations with Turkey (it's the most popular vacation spot for Israelis) despite its Muslim government. You will note that the Turkish government has not officially demanded an explanation, but I am sure they will be pressured by other Muslim countries (and by Syria) to do so.

I think this was a reconnaissance mission that might have been to find out information about the SAMs, but more likely had something to do with helping Iraqi Kurds (if you go to this map of Kurdistan, you will see that it's just east of where the fuel tanks were jettisoned). And the US is apparently playing along, since the US is also allied with the Iraqi Kurds.

That's my guess. Feel free to add your own.


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