Surveillance camera footage released Sunday showed an Israeli F-16 was on fire before it crashed on Saturday, apparently strengthening the prevailing view that the aircraft was shot down by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile.
In the black-and-white video, the plane could be seen streaking across the sky in flames before crashing in the distance in a blaze of light.
The pilot and navigator ejected from the plane before the crash and parachuted to the ground near the Jezreel Valley where the jet crashed.
The condition of the pilot, who was seriously injured, has since been upgraded to moderate; while the navigator flying with him was released from Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center Sunday after being lightly wounded.
The explosion shown in the newly released footage was also consistent with testimony from residents of Kibbutz Harduf where the F-16 crashed. One resident told Army Radio Saturday that she was sure their community was under terrorist attack after hearing the loud noise that shook the kibbutz.
The F-16 took part in Israeli airstrikes in response to an Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace from Syria in the early morning hours on Saturday.
The Israeli Air Force said it was investigating what caused the pilots to eject and if the aircraft was hit by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles. If the plane was in fact shot down by enemy fire, it would mark the first such instance for Israel since the 1982 Lebanon War.
An initial Israeli Air Force investigation indicated that crash was caused by explosion of an anti-aircraft missile next to the plane, the army said early Sunday.
An army spokesperson stressed that the investigation into the crash is ongoing, but said that the current assessment is that the missile brought down the F-16, known in Israel as a Sufa.
Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar, the Israeli Air Force’s second-in-command, said the Israeli planes faced a massive barrage of Syrian anti-aircraft fire, which reportedly included at least four different types of Russian-made air defense systems, specifically the SA-5, SA-17, SA-6 and SA-3.
While the Israeli Air Force has developed a reputation for aerial superiority in the region, Saturday’s crash served as a stark reminder of what many Israeli defense officials and analysts have been saying for years: no military system is perfect and unbeatable.
The more advanced Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighter jets have a significant advantage over the generally older Russian air defense systems — to say nothing of the F-35 stealth aircraft, which was declared operational in December — but that advantage is not total.