Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed on Saturday that Israel would “defend itself against any aggression and any attempt to violate its sovereignty,” in phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that followed Saturday’s IDF bombing raids on Iranian positions in Syria.
The exchange of fire – the most extensive attack on Syrian air defenses since the Lebanon War of 1982, according to Israeli Air Force Staff Commander Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar – was provoked by an Iranian drone that infiltrated Israeli airspace over the town of Beit Shean in the early hours of Saturday morning. Iran had “violated our sovereignty, and infiltrated its drone into Israeli airspace from Syria,” Netanyahu declared.
The drone had been sighted taking off from a base in Syria, and was intercepted after it crossed into Israeli territory, IDF spokesman Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus said. The IDF later released footage of what it said was the drone’s control vehicle in Syria being destroyed.
Israeli jets responded to the incursion with two powerful waves of strikes on Iranian positions in Syria. One Israeli F-16 jet was downed in the first wave of strikes, with the wreckage landing in northern Israel. The two pilots ejected to safety, although one is reported to have been seriously injured.
Israel’s decisive military response would compel the Tehran regime to think again before escalating any conflict, a leading Israeli military analyst observed.
“This was a serious retaliation by Israel,” Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin – former head of IDF Intelligence and currently the Executive Director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv – said on a conference call organized by The Israel Project. “This is why the event was contained and not escalated.”
Yadlin noted that two SAM missile sites were among the multiple targets struck by Israeli jets in Saturday’s raids. As a result, the Syrian capital Damascus has been left without serious air defenses, he said.
In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry urged “all sides to exercise restraint and to avoid any actions that could lead to an even greater complication of the situation.” A statement from the Pentagon expressed US support for “Israel’s inherent right to defend itself against threats to its territory and its people.”
Yadlin observed that while an immediate escalation is unlikely, Saturday’s events demonstrated the fragile security balance in the region brought about by Iran’s intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. “There is a much higher chance of a strategic collision between Iran’s determination to build a force in Syria, and Israel’s determination not to let them,” he said.
Since 2015, Iran has deployed thousands of its own troops in Syria alongside Shia fighters from proxy terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi. As well as stabilizing Assad, Iran’s overarching goal is to secure a land corridor between the Iranian border and the Mediterranean coast stretching through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The heavy fighting in recent days in the northern Syrian province of Idlib has also threatened to bring Iran into conflict with Turkey, which is currently waging a brutal military campaign against Kurdish fighters in Syria.
Yadlin said that Russia – the key outside power in Syria that has backed Assad together with Iran – had no interest whatsoever in an escalation of hostilities. “Contrary to popular wisdom, the Americans are still in Syria and the Russians do not exercise unlimited power there,” Yadlin said. “A conflict between Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and Israel is not in Russia’s interest at all.”
Hezbollah said in a statement that Saturday’s developments “mean the old equations have categorically ended.” For its part, Iran dismissed Israeli claims of a drone incursion as “ridiculous.”
“The illegitimate Zionist regime cannot cover up its atrocities and crimes against Muslim nations in the region by playing a blame game and spreading lies,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Saturday.
(C) 2017 . The Algemeiner . Ben Cohen