Israel conducted a series of air strikes on Saturday in Syria, hitting Syrian but also “Iranian” military targets and losing one of its aircraft during the most severe bout of tension involving the three countries for years.
After months of tension, this attack, in which an Israeli pilot was seriously injured, is the most serious confrontation between Israeli and Iranian interests in Syria.
This is the first time the Israeli army has openly said it has targeted “Iranian” targets since the start of the 2011 Syrian civil war, where Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy, is militarily assisting the Bashar al-Assad’s regime, said a spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.
This is also the first time in a long time — 30 years according to the daily Haaretz — that Israel has lost an F-16 in combat. The plane crashed into Israeli territory after being fired by the Syrian anti-aircraft defense during the operation, said Lieutenant-Colonel Conricus, recognizing that the fall of the aircraft was probably related to Syrian gunfire.
The two pilots ejected and were recovered and hospitalized, said the army. One of them is in serious condition, the other is slightly injured.
The attack was caused by the intrusion into Israeli airspace of an Iranian drone launched from Syria, said the Israeli army. The joint command of the Syrian regime’s allied forces – including Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah – denied in a statement any violation of Israeli airspace.
Iran has denounced Israel’s “lies” to “cover up its crimes in the region.” The allegations about an Iranian drone entering Israeli airspace are too ridiculous. ”
The Israeli army claims to have the debris of the drone. The army has published a video of her destruction, as well as that of a vehicle in Syria participating in its implementation. The machine, followed by Israeli surveillance since its launch from an “Iranian base” near Palmyra in Syria, was shot down by an Apache helicopter over the Jordan Valley.
In retaliation, eight Israeli aircraft attacked elements of the drone launch system, according to Lt. Col. Conricus. They reached their target but were hit by a “massive” barrage of the Syrian DCA.
The pilots of an F16 abandoned in flight their aircraft that crashed in the region of the Jezreel Valley (north).
Israeli warplanes launched a second wave of raids, a “far-reaching” attack, hitting 12 targets, including three anti-aircraft defense batteries and four targets “belonging to the Iranian military apparatus in Syria”.
In Damascus, the official Sana news agency claimed that the DCA had repulsed Israeli planes and hit “more than one”, reporting raids on military installations near Damascus in the center and south of the country.
According to the director of the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (OSDH) Rami Abdel Rahman, Israeli raids have targeted in the east of the province of Homs (center), a region where are present, he said, Iranian forces and members of Hezbollah, another enemy of Israel.
The intrusion of the drone is “the most flagrant and serious violation of Israeli sovereignty by Iran in recent years, which is why the Israeli response is so strong,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Conricus. .
Ally of the Syrian regime it helps militarily, Russia on Saturday called all parties to “restraint” and considered “absolutely unacceptable” to endanger the lives of Russian soldiers present in Syria.
Since the beginning of the war in Syria, Israel has been careful not to be drawn into the conflict while punctually striking military positions of the Syrian regime or arms convoys bound for Hezbollah, another support of Mr. Assad and ally of Iran.
Israel and Syria remain officially in a state of war. The relations are all the more strained as three enemies of Israel operate on the Syrian theater: the regime itself, Hezbollah and Iran.
Their proximity has already given rise to serious clashes. Israel has also already attacked Iranian sites in Syria in 2017, according to press reports.
In recent months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cautiously warned against Iran’s expansion into the region, and warned that Israel would not allow its presence in Syria to threaten its interests. In January in Moscow, he stressed in front of Vladimir Putin the “danger” of Iran getting a military footing in Syria.
On Tuesday, he repeated his warnings. “We are for peace, but we are ready for all scenarios and we do not advise anyone to look for us”.