(February 11, 2018 / JNS) An Israeli F-16 was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles and crashed in Israel’s Jezreel Valley early Saturday morning, as Israel was responding to the infiltration of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace.
The plane was hit in Israeli airspace, near the Syrian border. The two crew members succeeded in evacuating the plane before it crashed down in Israel, and were taken to Maimonides Medical Center in Haifa. The pilot initially sustained serious injuries. His condition has been since upgraded to moderate.
Earlier Saturday morning, an Israeli Apache helicopter struck down an Iranian drone that crossed into Israeli overspace, over the northern city of Beit Shean. Israeli Defense Forces considered the breach of Israeli airspace to be a severe violation, necessitating an immediate forceful response.
Israel then dispatched eight Israeli Air Force fighter jets to destroy numerous military targets within Syria, including the Iranian drone’s command center. The fighter planes reportedly came under fire from as many as 25 anti-aircraft missiles from four different types of Russian-made air-defense systems, signaling a Syrian readiness for the Israeli counter-strike.
The IAF subsequently responded with two more waves of attacks on Iranian and Syrian military installations harboring anti-aircraft missiles. Air-raid sirens were activated across northern Israel, warning citizens to take shelter.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran and Syria for the escalation of hostilities.
“I have been warning for some time about the dangers of Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria. Iran seeks to use Syrian territory to attack Israel for its professed goal of destroying Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Israel holds Iran and its Syrian hosts responsible for today’s aggression. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereignty and our security.”
At the start of the weekly Israeli Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu added, “Yesterday we dealt severe blows to the Iranian and Syrian forces. We made it unequivocally clear to everyone that our rules of action have not changed one bit. We will continue to strike at every attempt to strike at us. This has been our policy, and it will remain our policy.”
The Iranian proxy organization Hezbollah, which is based in southern Lebanon and active together with Iranian forces in Syria, issued a statement celebrating the downing of the Israeli fighter plane, heralding it as a “new strategic era which puts an end to the violation of Syrian airspace and territory.
The statement heralded the “vigilance of the Syrian army,” which it said “bravely blocked Israeli warplanes and downed an F-16.”
The crash marks the first time that an Israeli war plane has been shot down by enemy forces since the 1982 “Peace of the Galilee” operation in Lebanon.