Last week, four Israeli warplanes invaded Syrian airspace after midnight on September 6, breaking the sound barrier, and reaching as far as the village of Tal Abyad in the vicinity of Deir al-Zour, about 160 kilometers north of the city of Raqqa. A military source in Syria was quoted saying that the Israelis violated Syrian airspace "through the southern border, coming from the Mediterranean front toward the northeastern one".
Syrian defenses confronted the Israeli planes, forcing them to drop their fuel and ammunition so they could fly higher and faster and escape. "We warn the Israeli enemy government against this flagrant aggressive act, and retain the right to respond in an appropriate way," the military spokesman said. Witnesses reported seeing the warplanes at about 1:30am, but thought they were US ones, not Israeli.
The news caused a stir around the world, although it was pretty much expected by observers of the Syrian-Israeli front. There has been much speculation about an outbreak of hostilities between Damascus and Israel since June. Both countries had been mobilizing troops, raising the prospects of war, until Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak came out one week before the military operation saying his country was going to withdraw its troops from the Golan border. Israel captured the Golan Heights in 1967 in the Six Day War and, since then, the countries have been in bitter dispute.
War was not an option, the Israeli minister seemed to be saying. He added that mobilization raised the risk of an "accidental incident" between both armies, something that Israel wanted to avoid. For their part, the Syrians have been saying that their strategic choice is peace - not war - with Israel, reminding the world on every possible occasion that they had engaged in the peace process, under US auspices, for 15 years.
If both countries want peace, as the official version implies, then what exactly happened on September 6? One theory says Israel wanted to test Syrian defenses, especially after reports that Damascus had received new ballistic missiles from Russia. The objectives of the intrusion would be to "feel the waters" before Israel actually engaged in war with the Syrians. This was seconded by Israeli counter-terrorism expert Boaz Ganor, who said his country was "collecting intelligence on long-range missiles" deployed by Syria in the north.