An Israeli jet was shot down during an attack on Iranian targets in Syria yesterday, in the most serious confrontation between the foes since the start of the civil war.
Israel launched raids inside Syria after it intercepted an Iranian drone crossing the Syria-Israel border.
The military said its F-16 jet then faced massive anti-aircraft fire from the Syrian regime’s air defences that forced two pilots to abandon the aircraft, which crashed in northern Israel.
One pilot was seriously wounded and the other lightly. Syrian officials reported large explosions in the centre of the country and the Syrian counter fire set off warning sirens throughout northern Israel.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said it struck at least a dozen targets after the jet was downed, including three aerial defence batteries and four Iranian targets near the capital Damascus.
Saturday’s incident marked the first time an Israeli aircraft has been brought downed in combat since the Lebanese civil war in 1982.
Brigadier General Ronen Manelis, chief spokesman for the IDF, said it was being seen as an attack by Iran in Israeli territory. “Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” he said.
It was a rare public admission by Israel, which has conducted more than 100 strikes inside Syria against Iranian and Lebanese Shia militia Hizbollah, which are fighting in the war-town country in support of the government.
Analysts have long warned that as President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian allies grow stronger in Syria, the conflict between Israel and Iranian proxies will heat up.
IDF has targeted the Iranian control systems in Syria that sent the #UAV into Israeli airspace. Massive Syrian Anti-Air fire, one F16 crashed in Israel, pilots safe. #Iran is responsible for this severe violation of Israeli sovereignty. Event ongoing, more to follow.
— Jonathan Conricus (@LTCJonathan) February 10, 2018
Israel fears Iran is using the cover of the war next door to develop and transfer sophisticated weaponry to Hizbollah, its most powerful proxy force in the region.
It has also recently been warning of the increased Iranian presence along its border, but military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Saturday’s incident marked the most “blatant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty” yet.
He said Israel has no interest in further escalation but that it would “extract a heavy price” for such aggression.
The Syrian civil war is showing no signs of winding down after seven years of fighting. Not only is the violence not abating it appears to be escalating to unprecedented levels, stoked by international powers backing different sides of the conflict.
Syrian and Russian jets have been pounding the last-remaining rebel strongholds for the last week, leaving 230 civilians dead, in attacks the United Nations said could amount to war crimes.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said his office had received reports including video footage of possible use of “toxic agents” on Feb. 4 in the rebel-held town of Saraqeb, Idlib province.
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