An Israel Air Force fighter jet was targeted by Syrian anti-aircraft fire, forcing the pilots to bail out. The plane crashed near Kibbutz Harduf in the Lower Galil south of Shfaram on Shabbos. B’chasdei Hashem the crashing plane did not result in injuries or damage. One member of the crew sustained serious injuries and the second light, as they parachuted to safety.
The escalation began with an incursion into Israeli air space by an Iranian pilotless aircraft (Drone), which officials report appears to have crossed the border from Jordan. Israel retaliated by targeting the location the drone originated from, as well as several other Iranian locations deep in Syria.
The following ideo shows the IAF pilot downing the drone:
The sudden escalation offers what could be a harbinger of what lies ahead as the Syrian fighting winds down and an emboldened Iran establishes a military presence that Israel vows it will never accept. Syria over recent months has accused the IAF of invading its airspace and operating without authorization.
Israel has issued several stern warnings of late about the increased Iranian involvement along its border in Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli Cabinet just held a meeting near the Syrian border to highlight the new threats, which it attributes to Iran’s growing confidence given the success of the government of Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war thanks to their support.
Israel called the drone infiltration a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” and warned that Iran would be held accountable for its meddling, raising the specter of a larger confrontation in an area that has remained largely stable since a monthlong war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006.
“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”
IAF Brigadier-General Tomer Bar said that the drone, which was shot down in the Beit Shean area on Shabbos, entered Israel via Jordan and did not directly cross the Syrian-Israeli border, adding that the Iranians were trying to outwit the IDF’s detection and defense systems. “They estimated that we would not discover them,” said Brigadier-General Bar.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-General Gadi Eizenkott convened top intellegence and military brass at military headquarters in Tel Aviv for long hours of emergency consultations throughout Shabbos to discuss their next steps.
Netanyahu said he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and vowed to strike back hard.
“Iran seeks to use Syrian territory to attack Israel for its professed goal of destroying Israel,” he said. “Israel holds Iran and its Syrian host responsible for today’s aggression. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereignty and our security.”
Video of F-16 crew parachuting to safety inside Israel:
Chopper transporting wounded crew arrives at heliport of Rambam Medical Center:
Israel also appealed to the United Nations Security Council to denounce Iran’s aggression and “put an immediate end to Iranian provocations.”
Israel would not confirm whether its aircraft was actually shot down by enemy fire, which would mark the first such instance for Israel since 1982 during the first Lebanon war.
Photos of the downed F-16:
Israel fears Iran could use Syrian territory to stage attacks or create a land corridor from Iran to Lebanon that could allow it to transfer weapons more easily to Hezbollah — Lebanon’s Iranian-backed political party and militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction. Though Israel has largely stayed out of the Syrian conflict, it has struck weapons convoys destined for Hezbollah — which is fighting alongside Syrian forces — almost 100 times since 2012.
But Israel has refrained from striking Iranian sites directly. Syria has also repeatedly said it will respond to Israeli airstrikes but has rarely returned fire. Both of those trends came to an abrupt end Saturday as a rapid escalation played out in the early morning hours.
At dawn, Israel said it shot down an Iranian unmanned aircraft that penetrated its airspace and then destroyed the Iranian site in central Syria that it said launched it. Upon their return, Israel’s jets came under heavy Syrian anti-aircraft fire and the pilots of one of the F-16s had to eject and the plane crashed in northern Israel.
In subsequent attacks, the Israeli military said it struck four additional Iranian positions and eight Syrian sites, causing significant damage. The Israeli jets again faced a heavy barrage of anti-aircraft missiles but returned home safely, as large explosions were reported in Syria and warning sirens blared in northern Israel.
Israel says the strikes destroyed the main command and control bunker of the Syrian military and marked its most devastating assault against Syria in decades.
Iran denied Israel’s shooting down of a drone, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasem calling the account “ridiculous,” while the joint operations room for the Syrian military and its allies insisted the drone had not violated Israeli airspace and was on a regular mission gathering intelligence on ISIS militants.
Regardless, Hezbollah said Saturday’s developments signaled a “new strategic phase” in engaging Israel, which has been mostly off the guerrilla group’s radar as it has been knee-deep in the fighting in Syria.
Former Syrian lawmaker and political commenter Sharif Shehade said the anti-aircraft fire marked a political decision in Syria to respond to Israeli strikes, and that tensions would continue to rise unless Washington and Moscow intervened to calm the situation.
“It is a decisive decision to confront the Israeli air force and its careless behavior,” he told The Associated Press in Damascus, “I think what happened today is a lesson for Israel.”
However, a former Israeli Air Force pilot, retired Lt. Col. Reuven Ben-Shalom, said the fierce Israeli response actually sent “very clear messages” to the other side, showing Iran how deep Israel’s knowledge was of its activity in Syria.
“The fact that a drone like this is identified, tracked and intercepted so smoothly by the Israeli air force demonstrates our capabilities, demonstrates our resolve not to allow the breach of Israeli sovereignty,” he said. “I think it’s good that our enemies learn and understand these capabilities.”
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Saturday’s incident marked the most “blatant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty” yet. He said while Israel had no interest in further escalation it was prepared to “extract a heavy price” for such aggression.
By directly sending the drone into Israel on a military mission, Conricus said Iran was “playing with fire.”
Russia, which backs Assad and maintains a large military presence in the country, called for restraint and appeared to criticize Israel’s actions.
“It is absolutely unacceptable to create threats to the lives and security of Russian servicemen who are in Syria at the invitation of its legitimate government to assist in the fight against terrorists,” Russia’s foreign ministry said.
Israel has long complained about the involvement of archenemy Iran, and Iranian proxy Hezbollah, in the Syria war. Both have sent forces to back Assad, who appears headed toward victory after years of fighting. Israel has said it will not accept a permanent military presence by Iran and its Shiite allies in Syria, especially near the Israeli border.
Israel has shot down several drones that previously tried to infiltrate its territory from Syria. The capture of an Iranian drone and the targeting of Iranian sites in response, however, marked a dramatic escalation in the Israeli retaliation. Israel said it had recovered the remnants of the drone, which proved that it belonged to Iran.
The drone was a sophisticated pilotless aircraft
According to experts, this is a UAV with a piston wing that resembles the US RQ-170, a stealth-capable drone and a jet engine that Iran fell in 2011. In October 2016, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards displayed copies of the RQ-170 that they had produced. The drone was downed by an IAF Apache chopper, as seen in the accompanying video.
The downing of the Iranian UAV is a technological and operational achievement for the IDF, which chose to bring it down in the Jordan Valley and not across the border to understand the characteristics of the aircraft and to know the technologies that the Iranians were able to develop or acquire. According to Brigadier-General Bar, “the UAV demonstrates technological progress.”
Israeli experts also estimated that the drone would be of great interest to the American defense establishment in particular and to Western countries in general, which are closely monitoring the Iranian defense industries.
(AP/ YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)