Twelve sites, including four “Iranian targets” near the syrian capital, Damascus, were destroyed in the raid, according to an Israeli military spokesman, Jonathan Conricus. It was not immediately clear whether there were any casualties.
Both pilots managed to eject and landed in Israel. One was badly injured. It was not clear if the jet was hit or if the pilots abandoned the plane.
Saturday’s violence was one of the most severe incidents involving Israel, Iran and Syria during syria’s seven-year-old civil war. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the conflict.
The jet was part of a mission deep into syrian territory to destroy what Conricus said was an Iranian drone control facility near the desert city of Palmyra. The drone that entered Israeli airspace was shot down and retrieved, he said.
Iran condemned Israel for intercepting one of its drones. “Reports of downing an Iranian drone flying over Israel and also Iran’s involvement in attacking an Israeli jet are so ridiculous,” state TV quoted Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying. He said Iran provided only “military advice” to syria.
“The Israeli enemy entity at dawn today conducted a new aggression against one of the military bases in the central region. Our air defences confronted it and hit more than one plane,” the unidentified military source said.
“IDF (Israel Defence Forces) has targeted the Iranian control systems in syria that sent the [unmanned aircraft] into Israeli airspace. Massive syrian anti-air fire, one F16 crashed in Israel, pilots safe,” Conricus tweeted.
IDF has targeted the Iranian control systems in syria that sent the #UAV into Israeli airspace. Massive syrian Anti-Air fire, one F16 crashed in Israel, pilots safe. #Iran is responsible for this severe violation of Israeli sovereignty. Event ongoing, more to follow.
— Jonathan Conricus (@LTCJonathan) February 10, 2018
“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. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”
On Tuesday the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, paid a rare visit to the Israel-syria front and warned Israel’s enemies not to test its resolve. He did not mention by name Iran or its Lebanese militia ally, Hezbollah, both main players in syria’s civil war.