Russia has sent a clear message to Israel that the rules of the game have changed in Syria and its freedom to act in Syrian skies is over, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations said on Sunday night.
“President Putin sent a clear message,” said Bashar Jaafari, speaking on Syrian television. “The fact is that the Israeli ambassador [to Russia] was summoned for a conversation only a day after he submitted his credentials [to the Russian Foreign Ministry last Thursday], and was told categorically that this game is over.”
Syria’s use of anti-aircraft fire against Israel last Thursday night has changed the rules of the game, too, Jaafari said, adding that Syria will not stand idly by in the face of an Israeli threat.
He also claimed that when the civil war began in Syria in 2011, opposition militia groups sabotaged the anti-aircraft defense systems belonging to President Bashar Assad’s regime, giving Israel freedom to operate.
In a separate incident, Syrian media reported Sunday that the commander of a militia fighting alongside the regime was killed in an Israeli airstrike around Quneitra, in the Golan Heights.
The Lebanese TV channel Al Mayadeen, which is associated with Hezbollah, identified the casualty as Yasser Assayed, a member of the national defense militia. A source associated with the Assad regime said Assayad was a commander in the Golan brigade, a militia of Druze fighters (from villages in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights) who are fighting with the regime.
Between Thursday night and Friday morning, Israeli fighter jets attacked several targets in Syria, triggering the most serious clash between Israel and Syria since the civil war erupted six years ago. In response to the airstrikes, the Assad regime’s aerial defense system fired several missiles at the jets. Israel’s Arrow anti-missile defense system was launched, shooting down one of the missiles north of Jerusalem. The incident forced Israel to admit for the first time that it had launched an aerial attack in Syria.
Following that, Israel’s ambassador to Moscow, Gary Koren, was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry for talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov – again, an unusual development. Since Russian forces began operating in Syria in 2015, there have been a number of airstrikes that foreign media have attributed to Israel. But the Israeli ambassador had never previously been called in to clarify Israel’s actions.