Two days out, Israel’s press is still laser-focused on the most intense hostilities experienced along the northern border in over a decade, but attention on Monday morning turns to the drama of the fighter jet crew that survived the fiery wreck, the post-mortem into how the plane could be downed, and how it all may lead to more fighting.
Both Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom play up the edge-of-your-ejector-seat excitement and fear as the two pilots were flung out of their damaged jet, working off the testimonies of the two in initial statements to IDF investigators.
“We knew we had to hurry and eject, the power of the blast could have killed us,” reads the front page headline in Yedioth Ahronoth.
“We decided to eject in seconds,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom.
“The heroism of the two in the dramatic moments can be seen in the testimony of the navigator, who described in detail yesterday what happened when the F-16 was damaged from a Syrian anti-tank missile,” reads one typically patriotic paragraph in Yedioth, where populism is still flying high.
Like Icarus, though, flying high may be what got the airmen in trouble.
Haaretz focuses on what may have gone wrong, with a front page headline reporting that the “plane was left exposed while at a high altitude and Syria took advantage of the weak point.”
“From the initial investigation it appears that at least one of the Israeli jets remained at high altitude, apparently to verify that the missiles that were fired at the Iranian trailer actually hit it. At that point, Syria’s aerial defense system fired an unusually large number of missiles, more than 20, of at least two types – long-range SA-5s and shorter-range SA-17s. The volley of missiles was clearly visible to Israelis in the north and even in the center of the country,” the paper reports. However, it adds that Israel believes the mission was a success, with nearly half of the Syrian regime’s air power taken out.
Israel Hayom adds that investigators are also checking to see if “the electronic shield system was activated as needed in order to prevent a missile strike, and if the pilots acted with complacency because strikes in Syria have become routine.”
Yedioth reports that the downed jet wasn’t the only one to get into a trouble, with a second one getting “locked on to” but managing to escape.
The paper doesn’t have many details about the second jet, which was apparently in the same four-plane formation as the one shot down. However, the paper quotes a senior air force officer saying that no matter what brought the plane down, the day’s events, which kicked off with an Iranian drone infiltrating Israeli airspace, were not all preplanned by Iran like some perfectly planned “Home Alone” sequence.
“This did not look like an ambush. It looked like an activity that they assessed would be successful without being identified. It didn’t happen. We managed to take down the plane,” he’s quoted saying.
If he sounds like someone trying to take solace where none is due, it may be because the downing of the IDF plane is estimated to have far-reaching and dangerous consequences well beyond the incident itself, with Iran and Syria’s chests now puffed to 14,000 feet.
Analysts seem to agree a larger war is still in the offing thanks to the plane being downed, or in the words of Haaretz’s lead story, “unavoidable.”
“These assessments rely, among other things, on statements made by senior Iranian figures in the past 24 hours. Iran and Syria are looking to “strategically leverage” the unusual achievement of shooting down the plane, through public declaration about having changed the rules of the game in the north and threatening a severe response to any additional Israeli attacks in Syria or Lebanon,” the paper reports.
Surprise, surprise — the same analysis also appears in Israel Hayom.
“The defense establishment assesses that after taking down the air force jet, the Iranians will be more determined to continue entrenching themselves in Syria, and as their determination rises, the next round becomes only a matter of time,” the paper reports.
In the same paper Yoav Limor writes that even with the downing of the plane, there are some outside actions that may make Iran think twice, like new protests over spending on foreign intervention or Syrian President Bashar Assad realizing he doesn’t need Tehran’s headache.
“Syria will need to decide how close it wants to align with Iran’s interests and if Assad is ready to endanger his regime for foreign actors,” he writes.
In Yedioth as well, former defense official Giora Eiland writes that there are a few ways to get keep the situation from getting out of hand, including diplomatic maneuvering.
“In Israel’s eyes, keeping Iran out of Syria is much more important than new sanctions over its missile program. In a give and take over a new nuclear deal, they could be flexible on [the missiles] and more insistent on [Syria],” he writes.
Of course, Russia would have to play a major role in that process. The size of Russia’s pawprint in anything involving Syria and Iran becomes clear in a Haaretz analysis by Amos Harel, which notes that Israel was ready to keep attacking Syria until Russian President Vladimir Putin “blew the whistle.”
“In a conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [Saturday], Putin asked him to avoid moves that could lead to ‘a new round of dangerous consequences for the region,’” Harel writes. “The quiet after the Netanyahu-Putin call shows once again who’s the real boss in the Middle East. While the United States remains the region’s present absentee – searches are continuing for a coherent American foreign policy – Russia is dictating the way things are going. Moscow has invested too much effort and resources in saving Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in recent years to allow Israel to foil its strategic project. One can assume messages of this nature were conveyed during the phone call with Netanyahu.”