An Israeli F-16 fighter jet has been shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire on a raid to destroy Iranian facilities allegedly responsible for launching a drone into Israel.
The Israeli military claims it shot down the drone and struck Iranian targets in Syria after what it called a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty”.
The military says its planes faced heavy anti-aircraft counter fire from Syria that forced Israeli pilots to abandon an F-16 jet that crashed in the Jezreel valley in northern Israel. It said the pilots were injured and evacuated to hospital. Sirens sounded in northern Israel as a result of Syrian fire.
It was one of the most serious incidents involving Israel, Iran and Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war almost eight years ago.
Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said on Twitter that Iran was “responsible for this severe violation of Israeli sovereignty”.
“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,” Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said on Twitter on Saturday.
According to a separate military statement, Israeli forces had identified an “Iranian UAV” launched from Syria and intercepted it in Israeli airspace with a combat helicopter.
The military was “monitoring events and is fully prepared for further action”.
Syrian state media said air defences opened fire in response to an Israeli act of “aggression” against a military base on Saturday and hit “more than one plane”, citing a military source.
“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.
The Israeli military denied more than one plane had been hit.
Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brigadier General 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. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, paid a rare visit to the Israel-Syria front on Tuesday 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.
Netanyahu has been cautioning against any attempt by Iran to deepen its military foothold in Syria or construct missile factories in neighbouring Lebanon.