While Israel is not actively engaged in the Syrian war, it keeps close tabs on Iran and Hezbollah, both of which are backing Syrian government forces. Throughout the course of the Syrian conflict, Israel carried out a number of raids over the border against alleged Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah. The scale of Saturday’s incident, however, comes at a very fragile time when worn-torn Syria is trying to embark on a reconstruction process following the virtual defeat of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group.
Israel launched an attack on Iranian positions in Syria early on Saturday, scrambling its fighter jets to respond to an alleged intrusion of an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which crossed from Syrian territory into Israel. Damascus, activated its air defense systems, reportedly intercepting several aerial targets and downing one of Israel’s F-16 jets. The pilots ejected and survived the crash.
Following the raid, Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar, second in command of Israel’s Air Force, noted that the operation was “the biggest and most significant attack the air force has conducted against Syrian air defenses” since the 1982 Lebanon War.
Damascus called Israeli actions an “aggression,” while Tehran rejected the claim that one of its drones had made an incursion, dismissing the allegation as “ridiculous.” The Russian Foreign Ministry meanwhile stressed that Moscow remains “concerned” that new tensions could impact the zones of de-escalation “the creation of which became an important factor for the reduction of violence on Syrian soil.”