JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel struck a dozen Syrian and Iranian targets inside Syria yesterday in ‘large-scale’ raids after an Israeli fighter jet crashed under fire from Syrian air defences in 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 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.
In response, Iran denounced Israeli ‘lies’ and said Syria had the right to self-defence in response to Israeli strikes.
Separately, Iran issued a joint statement alongside the other main allies of the Syrian regime – Russia and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah – denying the allegations regarding the drone.
The Russian foreign ministry called for “restraint” from all parties.
Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus warned that Syria and Iran were “playing with fire”, but stressed 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.
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 defence 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 alive, although one was severely wounded, the military said.
According to the Israeli military, the confrontation began with the drone entering its airspace before being intercepted by a combat helicopter.
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 for reconnaissance, but alleged it “was on a military mission sent by Iranian military forces” from an “Iranian base” in the Palmyra area.