The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country early Saturday and struck Iranian targets in Syria that launched it, in what the military called a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty.”
The military said its planes faced heavy anti-aircraft counter fire from Syria that forced Israeli pilots to abandon an F-16 jet that crashed in northern Israel. It said the pilots were injured and evacuated to a hospital. Sirens sounded in northern Israel as a result of massive Syrian fire. Explosions could be heard in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley region near the Syrian border.
Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said Iran was “responsible for this severe violation of Israeli sovereignty.”
The military said it was “monitoring events and is fully prepared for further action.”
Syrian state TV quoted a military official saying Syrian air defenses hit more than one Israeli plane. The official said the Israeli raids hit a base in the country’s central area, and called it a “new aggression.”
Later, Syria state TV said its air defenses responded to new Israeli raids near the capital Damascus. Sirens were heard all around northern Israel though it was not immediately clear if anything hit Israel.
Israel has long complained about the involvement of archenemy Iran, and Iranian proxy Hezbollah, in the Syria war. The Shiite allies have sent forces to back Syrian President Bashar 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 been warning of late of the increased Iranian involvement along its border in Syria and Lebanon. It 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.
Israel has shot down several drones that previously tried to infiltrate its territory from Syria. The targeting of an Iranian site in response, however, marks an escalation in the Israeli retaliation. The military confirmed that the Syrian target — the unmanned aircraft’s launch components — was successfully destroyed. The military’s top military brass was meeting to coordinate Israel’s continued response.
Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said Israel held Iran directly responsible for the incident.
“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,” he said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”