Israel hit dozens Syrian and Iranian targets inside Syria on Saturday in “large-scale” raids after an Israeli fighter jet crashed under heavy fire from Syrian air defences, causing a severe increase in tensions, the military said.
The confrontation was the most serious between arch foes Israel and Iran since the start of the civil war in Syria back in 2011.
Israel’s raids came after it intercepted what it said was an Iranian drone entering its airspace from Syria, which it labelled an “attack.”
It marked the first time Israel publicly acknowledged attacking what it identified as Iranian targets in Syria since the war began.
Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus warned that Syria and Iran were “playing with fire,” but stressed that his country was not seeking an escalation.
“This is the most blatant and severe Iranian violation of Israeli sovereignty in the last years,” Conricus told journalists in a phone conference.
“That’s why our response is as severe as it is.”
Israel said its reprisals after the exchange were “large-scale” raids that attacked Syrian air defence systems and Iranian targets.
“Twelve targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets that are part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria were attacked,” a military statement said.
Israel has repeatedly warned in recent weeks against the presence of Iranian forces in neighbouring Syria.
The Israeli pilots of the crashed F16 were reported alive, although one was severely wounded.
According to the Israeli military, the confrontation began with the drone entering its airspace.
Israeli forces identified an “Iranian UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle)” launched from Syria and intercepted it in Israeli airspace with a combat helicopter, a statement said.
Conricus said it was intercepted well inside Israeli territory over the city of Beit Shean, near the Jordanian border.
He did not say whether the drone was armed or strictly for reconnaissance, but said: “We know it was on a military mission sent by Iranian military forces.”
Israeli aircraft then “targeted the Iranian control systems in Syria that sent the UAV into Israeli airspace,” according to Conricus.
The aircraft met “massive Syrian anti-air fire,” Conricus said, and the F16 crashed afterwards in the Jezreel valley in northern Israel.
It was not clear if the jet crashed as a direct result of the Syrian fire.
According to a separate military statement, “multiple anti-aircraft missiles were fired at IAF (Israel Air Force) aircraft.”