TEL AVIV – Israel caused serious harm to Syria’s air defenses with Saturday’s strikes, the IAF Air Staff Commander Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar said after the IDF responded to the incursion of an Iranian drone in Israeli airspace.
Bar said the response to “Syrian chutzpah” was “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. He added that the airstrikes inflicted “significant harm to the Syrian Air Force’s defenses,” which included “anti-aircraft batteries purchased in recent deals [with the Russians].”
Syria responded with a barrage of missiles that resulted in the downing of an Israeli F-16 in which two pilots were injured, one seriously and another lightly.
Israel said the drone infiltration was a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” and warned of further military action against Iran.
“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Israel’s chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said in a statement earlier Saturday. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”
The Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace and remained there for a minute and a half before being downed by a combat helicopter. Israel launched airstrikes on 12 Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria, including three air-defense batteries and four Iranian targets such as the control center that launched the drone.
The UAV, which has Western characteristics, was sophisticated and would be studied by Israel, Bar said.
The two pilots ejected from the F-16 after facing intense anti-aircraft missiles.
At the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the condition of both pilots had improved.
“A few minutes ago I spoke with the navigator and was pleased to hear that he is standing up, with all that entails,” he said, referring to the second pilot who was lightly injured.
“I was also pleased to hear that there has been an improvement in the condition of the pilot,” he said of the pilot who sustained more serious injuries and underwent surgery at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
“We wish both of them a quick and full recovery,” the prime minister added.
Netanyahu also said that Israel “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,” he added.
On Saturday, Netanyahu had telephone conversations with both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who have agreed that Israeli-Russian security coordination on Syria will continue.
Putin told Netanyahu to avoid “any steps which might trigger a new spiral of dangerous-for-all confrontation in the region,” the state-owned TASS news agency said.