An Israeli drone was downed in Syrian territory on Monday, the Israeli military said, confirming an earlier report in the Syrian and Lebanese media that the unmanned vehicle was shot down by Syrian aerial defense systems.
Syria said the drone, a Skylark, was downed over Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights. Lebanese terror group Hezbollah posted pictures of the downed drone on its social media pages.
The Israeli military said the circumstances of the incident were being checked, but that there were no immediate suspicions that classified data could be retrieved from the device.
The “sky rider,” as it’s known in Hebrew, is a tactical surveillance drone created by Elbit Systems and operated by the IDF’s Artillery Corps. The miniature UAV can be launched by one or two people, depending on the model, and once airborne provides a live video feed to soldiers on the ground.
Monday’s incident came after days of escalating tensions between Israel and Syria, set off by an early morning Israeli raid last Friday on a Hezbollah weapons convoy near Palmyra, with Syrian air defenses firing missiles at the Israeli planes.
An Israeli army statement said “several anti-aircraft missiles” were fired following the raid, but that none hit their targets, dismissing a Syrian claim that one plane was downed and another damaged. One missile was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense battery, military officials said, in the first reported use of the advanced system.
It was the most serious incident between the two countries since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.
On Sunday, an Israeli drone strike reportedly killed a member of a Syrian pro-regime militia, striking a truck driving near the town of Khan Arnabeh in the Quneitra province, on the road to Damascus.
The National Defense Force, a pro-regime militia set up in 2012, claimed the man killed was from among its ranks. It named the man as Yasser Hussien Assayed.
The reported strike came hours after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman threatened to destroy Syrian air defense systems, after Israeli aircraft were targeted during a bombing run early Friday morning.
“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Liberman said on Israel Radio.
Late Sunday, Syria’s ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari said Syria’s response to Friday’s strike was a “game-changer.”
Speaking on Syrian state TV, Jaafari said the military’s response was “appropriate and in line with Israel’s terrorist operation,” and that Israel “will now think a million times [before striking again],” according to a translation cited in Ynet.
“Syria’s forceful response to the Israeli attacks changed the rules of the game,” he said.
Israeli officials have warned of the possibility Hezbollah and Iran could attempt to set up a base to attack Israel near the border with the Israeli Golan Heights.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow, where he asked the Kremlin to make sure Iran does not gain a foothold in the area.
Israel has also repeatedly vowed to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring any advanced weaponry and several strikes on such convoys over the years since the Syrian civil war began in 2011 have been attributed to Israel. Jerusalem has also claimed several of the raids, including Friday’s.
“Each time we discover arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon we will act to stop them. On this there will be no compromise,” Liberman said Sunday.
“The Syrians must understand that they are held responsible for these arms transfers to Hezbollah and that if they continue to allow them then we will do what we have to do.”
Overnight Sunday-Monday, Syrian media reported that Israeli jets struck yet another Hezbollah weapons convoy near the Lebanon-Syria border. The reports were not confirmed.