An Israeli F-16 was hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire on its return from the bombing raid on Iranian targets (photo Wikkimedia commons

Iranian Drone in Israel Sparks IDF attacks in Syria as Tensions Escalate in Middle East

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An Iranian drone early Saturday morning entered Israel and triggered alarms in Beit She’an region; it was soon shot down by an Apache helicopter & shortly after, Israel retaliated by attacking Iranian targets in Syria, Ynet news reported.

Israel’s military launched a “large-scale attack” after shooting down the infiltrating drone and struck Iranian targets deep in Syrian before one of its own jets was downed. The raids hit at least 12 targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four targets that were part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria, Fox News reported.

Israel called the drone infiltration a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” and warned that Iran would be held accountable for its meddling.  “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.

The Israeli warplane was hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire on its return from the bombing raid on Iranian targets in the early hours of Saturday. Its two crew members survived with non-life-threatening injuries and parachuted to safety.

According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, during the attack on the site from which the drone was launched, carried out by eight Israeli fighter jets, the Syrian army retaliated with widespread antiaircraft fire. Pilots of one of the fighter jets recognized antiaircraft missiles locking onto their plane, prompting them to eject, Ynet news reported.

This marks the first such instance for Israel since 1982 during the first Lebanon war.

In response to the downed F-16, Israel launched a second raid, believed to be its most aggressive in years, which hit 12 Iranian and Syrian military sites, Business Insider reported.

“Yesterday we dealt a serious blow to the armies of Iran and Syria, we made it unequivocally clear to everyone that our rules of engagement have not changed in any way… We will continue to strike back at any attempt to harm us”, Israeli’s P.M told reporters on Sunday after the two airstrikes targeting key Iranian military facilities in Syria over the weekend inflicted heavy damage on the Iranian and Syrian militaries.

Syrian government officials claim 6 Syrian troops and allied militiamen were killed in the airstrikes, Times of Israel reported.

While Israel has basically remained neutral in the Syrian Civil War, several strikes against weaponry shipments to Hezbollah have been carried out.  The Lebanese militant group and its backers in Tehran do not recognize the Jewish state and have sworn its destruction. Hezbollah soldiers have been fighting alongside Iranian troops and Shia militias that back Syrian President Bashar along with Bashar’s army.

Iran’s continued political influence over the Assad government has been a major concern for Israel.  This latest military action draws Israel further into the Syrian Civil War.

Russia, who are allies with the Bashar government have urged restraint, the UK Independent has reported.

“Of particular concern is the danger of escalation of tension within and around de-escalation zones in Syria, the creation of which has become an important factor in reducing violence on Syrian soil…. we urge all parties involved to exercise restraint and to avoid any actions that could lead to an even greater complication of the situation”, The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement released after the Israeli airstrikes. Russia made no mention of the initial incident which triggered the retaliation, the Iranian drone.

The Unites States supported Israel’s right to defend itself in a statement released after the incidents. “Israel is our closest security partner in the region and we fully support Israel’s inherent right to defend itself against threats to its territory and its people,” said Pentagon spokesman Adrian Rankine-Galloway.

A statement released by the US State Department said, “The United States is deeply concerned about today’s escalation of violence over Israel’s border and strongly supports Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself. Iran’s calculated escalation of threat and its ambition to project its power and dominance, places all the people of the region – from Yemen to Lebanon – at risk. The U.S. continues to push back on the totality of Iran’s malign activities in the region and calls for an end to Iranian behavior that threatens peace and stability.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the press that hat the recent escalation in Syria is at the top of his agenda and he is keeping a close eye on the situation.

In an interesting and under-reported development, a U.S. official has said more than 100 fighters aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad died when coalition and local coalition-backed forces thwarted a large attack overnight on Feb. 7. At least two Russian fighters were killed, Reuters reported.  President Vladimir Putin has not officially confirmed this to his country.

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