Israel tried to contact Syrian pilot before shooting down jet, envoy to UN says

Army now reportedly believes plane crossed into Israel accidentally, but Danny Danon says military had to act quickly without knowing its intention

Israeli soldiers are photographed at the Tel Saki hill in the Golan Heights across the border from the Daraa province in Syria on July 24, 2018.  (AFP/JALAA MAREY)
Israeli soldiers are photographed at the Tel Saki hill in the Golan Heights across the border from the Daraa province in Syria on July 24, 2018. (AFP/JALAA MAREY)

Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said Tuesday that Israel tried to contact the pilot of a Syrian jet before shooting down his plane after it entered Israeli airspace.

Addressing the Security Council’s monthly meeting on the Middle East, Danon said the IDF observed the plane “crossing the border…. We tried to contact a few times, and there was no response.”

Israel said it shot down the Sukhoi-model jet with a pair of Patriot missiles after it breached some two kilometers inside Israel territory in the Golan Heights.

There was no time to “wait to see what are the real intentions of the pilot,” Danon said, adding that “that’s what any other country will do in a similar situation.”

The Israel Defense Forces now believes the pilot likely strayed into Israeli territory by mistake while carrying out bombing runs against rebel-held areas near the border, according to Israeli media reports.

The IDF is on “elevated alert” along the northern border because of the fighting on the Syrian side of the fence, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaks during a brief press conference before a Security Council meeting at UN Headquarters, July 24, 2018 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

Danon said Israel seeks “no escalation in the region.” According to Israeli reports, the IDF does not intend to shoot down every jet that enters Israeli airspace, but will act to intercept rockets or drones.

“The only thing we can do is to protect our civilians,” Danon said.

“Israel will not tolerate any violation of our sovereignty — not from Syria, not from Gaza, not from any other enemy that threatens our security,” he said.

The plane reportedly crashed inside Syria, killing its pilot. The fate of a second crewman is unknown, Syrian reports said. Israeli reports indicated there was only one pilot in the plane, however.

Smoke trails from two Israeli Patriot interceptor missiles that Israel says shot down a Syrian fighter jet are seen in northern Israel on July 24, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Syria’s military said its jet was targeted by Israel over Syrian territory as it flew sorties against Islamic State militants near the border. Regime forces have been battling rebels and IS fighters near the Israeli border for weeks in a campaign to restore President Bashar Assad’s rule over southwestern Syria.

Israel has stressed it would enforce the ceasefire lines between the two countries.

“This is a blatant violation of the 1974 separation agreements between Israel and Syria,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “We will not accept any intrusion or spillage into our territory, either from the ground or from the air.”

Israel has warned Syria through various channels not to violate the 1974 agreement, Conricus said.

Syrian rebels surrendered their last pockets in the southwestern Quneitra and Daraa provinces last week, leading thousands of opposition fighters, their families and other civilians to evacuate to the rebel-held province of Idlib in northern Syria.

Syrian government forces’ soldiers wave their national flags after taking back the city of Quneitra from the rebels, on July 19, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Youssef KARWASHAN)

On Tuesday, government forces reached the border fence where a UN peacekeeping force is deployed at the edge of the Golan Heights for the first time since 2011, when an uprising swept through Syria against Assad.

Minutes before the reported downing of the jet, Syria’s state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV was broadcasting footage from the fence demarcating the UN buffer zone between Syrian and Israeli forces in the Golan Heights. A UN observer post could be seen just on the other side of the fence.

The camera showed an Israeli post 400 meters (440 yards) away.

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