Israel takes on Iran as Syria crisis takes a turn for the worse
By Diane Cooke
The crisis in Syria has taken a sinister new turn as Israel clashed with Syrian and Iranian military forces on Saturday in a series of cross-border strikes.
The New York Times writes that the confrontations began before dawn when Israel intercepted what it said was an Iranian drone that had penetrated its airspace from Syria.
The Israeli military then attacked the command-and-control centre from which Iran had launched the drone, at a Syrian air base near Palmyra.
On its way back from the mission, one of Israel’s F-16 fighter jets crashed in northern Israel after coming under heavy Syrian antiaircraft fire. Both pilots aboard the Israeli jet ejected, the Israeli army said. One pilot was severely injured during the ejection, while the second was lightly wounded. It is believed to be the first Israeli plane lost under enemy fire in decades.
Israeli air strikes in Syria are not unusual, the BBC's Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman says, but the loss of an Israeli fighter jet marks a serious escalation.
It prompted a broad wave of Israeli strikes against a dozen Syrian and Iranian targets in Syrian territory. The Israeli military said it hit eight Syrian targets, including three aerial defence batteries, and four Iranian positions that it described as “part of Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria.”
An Israel Defence Forces statement described the four Iranian targets as "part of Iran's military establishment in Syria."
"Our policy is absolutely clear: Israel will defend itself from every attack and from every attempt to harm our sovereignty," Netanyahu said. "Iran made such an attempt today. They violated our sovereignty, they infiltrated a drone into Israel's territory from Syrian territory."
Syria has fired anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli jets at least three times in recent months. This is the first time they have struck an Israeli jet.
Netanyahu also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday night, a key regional player and an ally of both Israel and Iran.
Netanyahu reiterated Israel's willingness to defend itself, while adding that military coordination between Russia and Israel over the skies of Syria will continue.
Russia provides military backing to the Syrian government, and has not expressed concern about Iran's presence in Syria. Russia is an ally of Iran, which has sent troops and advisors to back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But Russia also maintains cordial ties with Israel.
Given the expanded Russian presence in the region in recent years, it is Russia that is seen as having the leverage over both countries to prevent the situation from escalating further.