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 territory 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, was 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 an Israeli fighter was downed by enemy fire since 1982 during the first Lebanon war.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus and Yuval Steinitz, a minister in Israel’s security cabinet, said the drone was based on a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel, which is a copy of an American unmanned aerial vehicle that Iran intercepted six years ago, according to the Israel, The Washington Post reported.
“It was an Iranian copy of a US drone that they got hold of a few years ago and they duplicated,” Steinitz told Israeli radio.
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.
Senior Israeli defense forces officials told the press that Israel has destroyed nearly half of President Bashar Assad’s air defenses.
“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 Benjamin Netanyahu 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.
Syria’s Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Sussan threatened Israel with “more surprises” in a press conference Tuesday morning where he stated: “God willing, they will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria”, Fox News reported. Assad’s mouth-piece, Sussan added that he has full “confidence the aggressor will be greatly surprised, because it thought this war — this war of attrition Syria has been exposed to for years — had made it incapable of confronting attacks.”
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.
Global tensions are high at this point between multiple factions in this complex and multi-faceted environment. Israel, U.S, Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, Russia, North Korea and China all fit into this interwoven international situation.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned Tuesday that the current risk of a global conflict is higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War.
“The risk of interstate conflict, including among great powers, is higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War… The most immediate threats of regional interstate conflict in the next year come from North Korea and from Saudi-Iranian use of proxies in their rivalry”, Coats told lawmakers during a hearing on worldwide threats before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The United 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 State Department said, “The United States is deeply concerned about the 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.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the press that the recent escalation in Syria is at the top of his agenda and he is keeping a close eye on the situation.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for de-escalation following the events over this past weekend. Guterres is “following closely the alarming military escalation throughout Syria and the dangerous spillover across its borders… He calls on all to work for an immediate and unconditional de-escalation of violence and exercise restraint” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement, as reported by Times of Israel.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, called on the Security Council: “to condemn this dangerous act and to put an immediate end to Iranian provocations…this is not the first time that we have warned you of Iran’s dangerous actions that undermine the situation in our region. This incident proves every one of those warnings correct. Israel will defend its citizens and will not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty”, Danon wrote in a letter to UN Security Council members.
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.
By: Jared Pachefsky
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