The White House on Sunday expressed support for Israel’s retaliatory military strikes in Syria over the weekend and called on Iran to “cease provocative actions” in the region.
“Israel is a staunch ally of the United States, and we support its right to defend itself from the Iranian-backed Syrian and militia forces in southern Syria,” the statement by US President Donald Trump’s office read, echoing earlier comments by the State Department and the Pentagon.
“We call on Iran and its allies to cease provocative actions and work toward regional peace,” the White House added.
The statement came a day after tensions flared on the Israeli-Syrian border, with the IDF intercepting an Iranian drone inside Israeli airspace and an Israeli F-16 crashing in northern Israel.
At approximately 4:25 a.m. on Saturday, an Iranian drone from Syria entered Israeli territory from Jordan and was shot down by an Apache attack helicopter near the northern Israeli city of Beit Shean, according to the army.
Israel said the drone infiltration was a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty,” and warned of further action against unprecedented Iranian “aggression.”
In response, the Israeli Air Force quickly conducted a series of reprisal strikes in Syria.
One F-16 fighter jet was apparently hit while flying over Syria during the raid, but managed to return to Israel, where its two pilots bailed out of the plane, which crashed into a field in the Jezreel Valley, according to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. One of the airmen was severely injured, while the second was lightly wounded.
Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar, the deputy head of the IAF, said the Israeli planes faced a massive barrage of Syrian anti-aircraft fire. The IDF said it was still investigating the exact cause of the F-16 crash, but was working under the assumption that it was due to a Syrian anti-aircraft missile.
In response to the apparent downing of the F-16, the Israeli military conducted another round of strikes, specifically targeting Syrian air defense systems. Then too, Israeli pilots faced significant Syrian anti-aircraft fire, setting off multiple warning sirens in northern Israel and sending residents into bomb shelters.
Six pro-regime fighters were killed in Israel’s Saturday raids in Syria, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On Saturday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert backed Israel’s military response.
“Iran’s calculated escalation of threat, and its ambition to project its power and dominance, places all the people of the region — from Yemen to Lebanon — at risk,” she said in a statement.
“The US continues to push back on the totality of Iran’s malign activities in the region and calls for an end to Iranian behavior that threatens peace and stability.”
The Pentagon expressed similar comments following the hostilities.
“Israel is our closest security partner in the region and we fully support Israel’s inherent right to defend itself against threats to its territory and its people,” said US Defense Department spokesman Adrian Rankine-Galloway, according to Reuters.
“We share the concerns of many throughout the region that Iran’s destabilizing activities that threaten international peace and security, and we seek greater international resolve in countering Iran’s malign activities,” he added.
He also said the US was not involved in Israel’s military response.
The US support came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will continue to defend itself, including by acting against Iranian efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria.
“Israel wants peace but we will continue to defend ourselves with determination against any attack on us and against any attempt by Iran to entrench itself militarily in Syria or anywhere else,” Netanyahu said in a filmed statement from the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on Saturday, adding that Israel “holds Iran and its Syrian hosts responsible for today’s aggression.”
Netanyahu also said that he spoke with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, noting that Israeli-Russian military coordination vis-a-vis Syria will continue.
“Our policy is absolutely clear: Israel will defend itself against any attack and any attempt to harm our sovereignty,” he said. “Iran made such an attempt today. It brazenly violated our sovereignty, it infiltrated its aircraft into Israeli territory from Syrian territory,” he said, referring to the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle.
During their talk, Putin told Netanyahu to avoid “any steps which might trigger a new spiral of dangerous-for-all confrontation in the region,” according to the state-owned TASS news agency.
The Israeli airstrikes marked “the biggest and most significant attack the air force has conducted against Syrian air defenses since Operation Peace for the Galilee” in 1982 during the First Lebanon War, the Israeli Air Force’s second-in-command Brig. Gen, Tomer Bar said Saturday.
Agencies contributed to this report.