Russian aircraft intercepted two Israeli F-16 fighter jets in the skies over northern Lebanon early Monday, six kilometers from the coast, according to a report posted by the Vistnik Mordevi news agency.
The IAF aircraft were allegedly escorted from Tripoli, out of Lebanese air space by Russian Sukhoi SU-34 jets, according to numerous regional media reports. But despite much speculation the circumstances surrounding the incident remain unclear.
Russia and Israel have not confirmed or denied the reports. Last week, however, Israeli Air Force Chief of Staff Amiram Norkin posted a photo of one of Israel’s new F-35 “Adir” (“mighty”) stealth fighter jets flying over Beirut.
Israel and Russia have been coordinating their efforts to prevent clashes over Syria as Israel works to prevent an Iranian buildup of military forces across her northern border.
Towards that end, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov told journalists at a news conference held Monday in Moscow that only Syrian Army troops should be present on the country’s border with Jordan and Israel.
Lavrov’s comments came in response to remarks from the United States expressing concern over an impending Syrian military offensive intended to take place in a “de-escalation” zone in the southwest. The U.S. warned it would respond to any breaches of the truce established in the area.
“Of course, the withdrawal of all non-Syrian forces must be carried out on a mutual basis; this should be a two-way street,” Lavrov said, according to Reuters. “The result of this work, which should continue and is continuing, should be a situation when representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic’s army stand at Syria’s border with Israel,” he added.
Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Liberman, is scheduled to meet Thursday in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
A report on the London-based Saudi website Elaph on Monday claimed, meanwhile, that Iran has reached “understandings” with Israel, negotiated in Amman via third-party talks with Jordan, to prevent the start of what could easily become a third world war in Syria.