On June 24, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported that they had carried out air strikes on Syrian regime forces in the Quneitra governorate, near the frontier with the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, after shells landed on the Israeli side of the demarcation line.
The following day, Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency published a report, citing an unnamed “military-diplomatic source at the Russian Ministry of Defense” as saying that the IDF had not, in fact struck Syrian regime forces, but those belonging to “Jabhat al-Nusra” - the former Al-Qaeda affiliate which now refers to itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and operates under the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham coalition.
The unidentified Russian source claimed:
“The Israelis simply struck the site from which the shelling had been carried out. As a result of this air strike, two of the terrorists’ tanks and a heavy machine gun were destroyed.”
The source also suggested that the shelling of Israeli-controlled territory had been carried out by the rebel fighters with the deliberate aim of provoking clashes between the IDF and Syrian army forces.
The problem here is that Syrian state television and several other sources had already reported that the Israelis had struck regime-controlled territory.
The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), Syria’s state news agency, reported on the day of the attacks that the IDF had struck “services facilities and residential buildings,” “claiming a number of lives and causing material damage.”
While we cannot discount that Israeli aircraft may have struck non-military targets, footage released by the IDF does clearly show the destruction of two tanks and what is purported to be a heavy machine gun, as described by both the Israelis and the Russians.
Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen news channel, which generally supports the Assad regime, also reported that two were killed after Israeli aircraft struck a “Syrian army post in Quneitra.”
Meanwhile, the anti-regime Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers reports from activists in rebel-held areas, reported that they had “confirmed information” about Israeli warplanes destroying two armored vehicles belonging to the Syrian regime, though they had no reports of casualties.
Clearly Russia’s own allies in Damascus, let alone any other sources, do not agree with the conclusions offered in the RIA Novosti report.
In fact, far from backing the Russian line that the IDF had struck Jabhat al-Nusra fighters on the 24th, SANA even claimed that the Israeli air strikes had been timed to “provide support for al-Nusra,” as the attacks had coincided with an attack by the militants on regime positions nearby.
RIA Novosti’s military source offers no evidence for their claim, and their claim is directly contradicted by Russia’s allies whose forces were the very targets of the air strikes under discussion.