An Iranian unmanned aircraft entered Israeli territory from Syria early Saturday morning and was shot down by the Israeli Air Force, in an incident the military called a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty.” In response to the breach, the air force struck Iranian and Syrian military targets in Syria.
The Syrian army targeted Israeli jets with heavy anti-aircraft fire during the raid, bringing down an F-16 fighter jet and setting of alarm sirens across the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley.
The army said the F-16 pilots ejected after being targeted by missiles. One of the pilots was seriously injured during the ejection, while the other suffered light injuries. The two were rushed to hospital.
Sirens sounded in northern Israel throughout the morning as a result of massive Syrian anti-aircraft fire. Explosions could be heard in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley region near the Syrian border. One Syrian anti-aircraft missile reportedly fell inside Israeli territory, causing no damage.
IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. 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,” Manelis said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”
Later, Syria state TV said its air defenses responded to new Israeli raids near the capital Damascus. Sirens were heard all around northern Israel though it was not immediately clear if anything hit the country.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin were leading operations from army headquarters in Tel Aviv, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding security assessments and approving operations in real time.
“The IDF is following events and is fully prepared for further action according to decisions and need,” the military said.
The drone was identified approaching Israeli airspace at around 4 a.m., setting off alarms in the Beit Shean area near the Sea of Galilee. It was identified by air defenses and downed by an Apache helicopter upon entering Israeli territory. The army said the drone’s remains were in Israeli hands.
The IDF said it attacked the drone’s launch site, the Tiyas Military Airbase near Palmyra, which the army said it hit in “a complicated surgical strike.” The strike reportedly targeted a facility housing the unmanned aircraft’s Iranian operators.
The air force was met with heavy Syrian anti-aircraft fire. During the activity an F-16 targeted by anti-aircraft missiles went down in Israeli territory, crashing near Kibbutz Harduf in the Jezreel Valley.
Syrian state media said air defenses repelled an Israeli raid, hitting more than one warplane.
“At dawn, the Zionist enemy carried out a new aggression against one of our military bases in the center of the country,” Syrian state news agency SANA reported. “Our air defenses repelled it and hit more than one plane.”
Watch: F-16 pilot parachutes down after ejecting from plane
— חדשות עשר (@news10) February 10, 2018
Shaul Pinkerfeld, a security officer at Kibbutz Harduf, told Walla news: “A little bit after 6 a.m. we heard explosions. We woke up and understood that there was a plane or the remains of a plane on fire near the kibbutz entrance.
“There have been no special instructions for residents but there is no entering or leaving the kibbutz, and we don’t know for how long.”
Residents of northern Israel reported multiple alarm sirens throughout the morning hours, which apparently came both in response to the drone and to Syrian missile launches. Some posted videos of the smoke-filled early morning skies.
فيديو لطائرة الاسرائيلية بتبعه صواريخ pic.twitter.com/ALWBKefeEp
— محمد الدعجة (@MhmmdJor) February 10, 2018
Tensions have been rising along the northern border recently, as Israel has warned repeatedly against Iranian efforts to set up weapons production facilities in Lebanon and establish a presence near the Israeli border with Syria.
According to unconfirmed reports, Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes on the Syrian armed forces and their allies since the civil war broke out there in 2011.
The prime minister and senior defense officials have said that the country takes action in Syria when a “red line” is crossed, generally meaning in retaliation to deliberate or accidental attacks on Israel from southern Syria or when advanced weapons are being transferred to the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group.
There have, however, been reports of additional Israeli actions that do not appear to have been in response to a violated “red line,” including in attacks against suspected chemical weapons facilities.
Early Wednesday morning, according to Syrian reports, Israeli aircraft bombed a military scientific research facility outside Damascus, which is suspected of both developing chemical weapons for Assad and assisting Iran and Hezbollah in improving their missile technology.
Netanyahu has said that if Iran continues to try and entrench itself in Syria, Israel will “stop it.”
Meanwhile the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which seeks Israel’s destruction, has been threatening to open fire at IDF soldiers if Israel does not halt the construction of a barrier it is building along the Israel-Lebanon border.
Agencies contributed to this report.