Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel “will defend itself against any attack and any attempt to harm our sovereignty”. He was speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting about events on Saturday morning that began with an Iranian drone flying over Israeli airspace and ended with Israel bombing 12 targets in Syria and losing an F-16 fighter jet that crashed in Israel.
At approximately 4:25 am Israel time, an Israeli helicopter intercepted an Iranian drone which entered Israeli airspace near Kfar Ruppin in the Beit Shean Valley. The drone, according to the Israeli military, was dispatched from the Iranian controlled T-4 base in Palmyra in eastern Syria.
Shortly after, Israeli jets bombed Iranian targets in Syria, focusing on the drone’s mobile command and control centre, during which an Israeli F-16 fighter was hit by shrapnel from an exploding anti-aircraft missile whilst returning over Israeli territory. The pilot and navigator ejected from the aircraft and landed within Israel. The pilot was seriously injured (his situation has since stabilised).
At approximately 8:45 am, Israeli fighter jets reportedly bombed 12 targets in Syria, including Syrian aerial defence systems and additional Iranian targets. During the second attack, additional anti-aircraft missiles were launched at the Israeli fighter jets, and sirens were sounded in northern Israel.
This morning IDF spokesperson Lt-Col. Jonathan Conricus told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What we did over the weekend was respond to an act of aggression which was instigated by Iran. We responded by delivering a blow to the Syrian air defence array, specifically the ones that fired missiles toward our planes, and the Iranian act of aggression that emanated from Syrian territory.”
Conricus added that among those targets hit were Iranian military targets related to the “Iranian efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, so-called forward operating basis that they have been working significantly on for the past years since the war in Syria started. What we’re trying to do is deliver a clear message to Iran that [an Iranian presence in Syria] is not tolerable”.
Minister of Intelligence Israel Katz told Army Radio that the scale of the Israeli retaliation had caught Iran by surprise, saying: “They, and we, know what we hit and it will take them some time to digest, understand, and ask how Israel knew how to hit those sites. These were concealed sites and we have intelligence agencies and the ability to know everything that is going on there and yesterday we proved that.”