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Questions Cloud Alleged Israeli Flyover
News Service: The Associated Press
JERUSALEM_Syria's announcement that it opened fire on Israeli aircraft invading its airspace has raised the question of why Israel would want to heighten tensions just days after stating that war with its enemy to the north was unlikely.
Israel refuses to comment on Syria's claim. But the Jewish state would have reason to fly over northern Syria: to collect information about long-range missiles pointed at Israel, to test Syrian air defense, or to try out a possible air route to its archenemy Iran.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency on Thursday quoted a military official as saying that Israeli jets broke the sound barrier flying over northern Syria earlier in the day, then "dropped munitions" onto deserted areas after being shot at by Syria's air defenses.
And a Syrian government newspaper warned Friday that the country "possesses the means to respond ... so that it will deter Israel against proceeding with such unpredictable adventures."
The charge was the latest episode in tensions between the decades-old enemies that grew with Israel's war against Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer.
Frictions between the two countries had abated slightly in recent weeks with announcements by Israeli and Syrian leaders that they were not interested in hostilities. Last month, Israel's army said it had determined that war with Syria is unlikely after Syria began rotating forces out of the contested Golan Heights.
But Israel sees Syria as one of its greatest foes, and watches it closely. Israel is wary of Syria's warming ties with Iran, an even bigger enemy in Israeli eyes, and its support for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
"This may have been a reconnaissance flight, which Israel conducts time to time, to check out Syrian ports where Iranian and Russian ships are carrying advanced weapons," said Eyal Zisser, director of Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center.
The corridor of northern Syria where the aircraft allegedly flew over is the closest straight line from the Mediterranean Sea, where Israel has easy access, to Iran. The area is separated from Iran only by Iraqi Kurdistan, a region whose rulers would almost surely allow either Israel or the U.S. to fly over.
Israel's air force may have been testing an air path to Iran, in case it decides to carry out an attack against that country's nuclear facilities, analysts said.
Israel's air force does carry out reconnaissance flights over Syria, but is usually undetected, said Ephraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
"It is hoped ... that the two countries will agree to contain this incident and it appears they will do so," Inbar said. "But the status quo between the two countries has been cracked."