Israeli security forces walk next to the remains of an F-16 Israeli war plane near the Israeli village of Harduf, Israel February 10, 2018. REUTERS
CAIRO - 11 February 2018: Red alert sirens sounded in areas of northern Israel and the occupied Golan Heights early Saturday due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire that targeted Israeli fighter jets, downing one F-16 jet that attacked positions inside Syrian territory.
Israeli authorities have not confirmed that the F-16 jet was shot down by the Syrian fire, saying that “the concerned authorities are still conducting investigations to determine the reason behind the jet’s crash.”
Israeli apache shot Iranian UAV
At four o’clock in the morning, an Israeli Apache helicopter intercepted an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) originating from an airfield near Palmyra, Syria. Twenty minutes later, alarm sirens sounded in Beit She'an and the Gilboa and Emek HaMa'ayanot Regional Councils, northern Israel.
The Iranian side denied the Israeli story, stressing that no Iranian drone had entered the Israeli airspace. “The Iranian presence in Syria aims only at consultations,” the Iranian Revolutionary Guard deputy chief announced on Saturday.
In a retaliation response, eight Israeli fighter jets attacked the site from which the Iranian drone was launched, according to the Israeli Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit. Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked Iranian sites inside Syria. They all returned safely to Israel except one, which crashed due to Syrian anti-craft fire.
"The Syrian system has already hit several missiles and an Israeli aircraft carrying out attacks south of the capital of Damascus, west of the capital and on the outskirts of Homs," a military source told Lebanese news site Al-Nashra.
Israel hits Iranian targets in Syria
“Twelve targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets that are part of Iran's military establishment in Syria, were attacked," the Israeli IDF said in a statement.
At 9 a.m., a new series of alarms sounded once again in the Jordan Valley and Upper Galilee. A Syrian SA-6 Grainful fell in northern Jordan while Damascus was trying to attack Israeli jets, sources reported to Sky News Arabia.
A military expert talked to Sky News Arabia TV, revealing that he obtained “news that the Israeli F-16 fell inside the Jordanian territory. As a result, I can say that the Israeli aircraft was attacked by direct fire from the southern Syrian area. The Israeli jet could not fly far, so it fell in Jordan. This also means the Israeli jet was targeted by sophisticated weapons.”
Israeli reactions to Syrian fire
Downing an Israeli fighter jet by Syrian fire marks one of the most serious escalations in the region, BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held security consultations and demanded his cabinet’s members refrain from commenting on the F-16 jet event.
Although Syrian state news agency SANA reported one Israeli aircraft was shot by Syria’s defense systems, Israel has not confirmed yet whether the F-16 jet was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire or not.
Israeli officials considered the Iranian drone’s presence in Israeli’s airspace “a serious attack on Israeli territory,” according to IDF spokesperson Ronen Manelis. “Israel identified an Iranian drone which took off from Syrian territory. The drone was identified by IAF systems and was downed by an IAF helicopter. The Iranian drone fell in our territory and is in our possession.”
Manelis added, “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”
The two F-16 pilots ejected in northern Israel and were taken to the hospital. One pilot is in serious condition, while the other one is in stable condition surrounded by his relatives and family members, Israeli media reported.
Iran denies and Syria is proud
"The downing of the fighter jet was a clear warning to Israel,” the Iranian National Security Council’s spokesperson told Doha-based Al-Jazeera network following the Israeli jet crash.
Pro-Iran Al-Mayadeen channel reported that Syria’s air defense systems intercepted more than 70 percent of Israeli missile attacks on Saturday – a claim that Israel categorically denied.
Such “terrorist action by Israel would be met with a severe and serious response,” announced the military alliance fighting in support of the Syrian regime in a statement following the downing of the jet.
The Israeli air force has targeted Syrian military sites on an almost regular basis, on allegations that they are affiliated to Iranian and Hezbollah militias.
Israel does not seek escalation
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to arrive for a regional tour in a few days. The tour will include Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries. Tillerson may also be involved in mediating between Iran and Israel after Saturday’s escalation.
Israeli local media reported that Netanyahu had demanded the mediation of Washington and Moscow to resolve the newly-reported developments in the region. "We are willing, prepared and capable to exact a heavy price from anyone that attacks us; however, we are not looking to escalate the situation. This was a defensive effort triggered by an Iranian act of aggression and we are defending our airspace, our sovereignty and civilians," an Israeli military spokesman said on Saturday.
Israel has frequently asked the Russian government to mediate and pressure Tehran to pull out its military forces existing along the Syrian-Israeli borders. Moscow expressed its concerns over Saturday’s developments, warning against attacking its interests in Syria.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum commented on Syria's announcement of shooting down an Israeli aircraft in the Golan Heights, saying, “This is a natural response to the Israeli occupation targeting of the #Syrian territory and the continued aggression against it.”