Israeli fighter jet downed by Syrian fire, says military

By News Agencies
Two Israeli Air Force F-16I jet fighters. Photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA

Israel has launched what it described as a large-scale air raid in Syria after one of its F-16 fighters crashed while under Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Twelve sites, including “four Iranian targets” near the Syrian capital Damascus were destroyed, according to the Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus.

The crashed Israeli F-16 was returning on Saturday morning from a raid to destroy Iranian facilities accused of launching a drone into Israel.

The two pilots, one of whom was severely injured, managed to eject and landed in Israel. It was not clear if the jet had been hit or if the pilots abandoned the plane.

The jet was part of a mission deep into Syrian territory to destroy what Conricus said was an Iranian drone control facility near the desert city of Palmyra. The drone that entered Israeli airspace was shot down and retrieved, he said.

The violence was one of the most severe incidents involving Israel, Iran, and Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war almost eight years ago.

“The Syrians and Iranians, from our point of view, are playing with fire,” Conricus said. “The event is still ongoing; it is by no means behind us.”

It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties in Syria.

Syrian state media said air defences opened fire on the jets in response to an Israeli act of “aggression” against a military base on Saturday and hit “more than one plane”, citing a military source.

“The Israeli enemy entity at dawn today conducted a new aggression against one of the military bases in the central region. Our air defences confronted it and hit more than one plane,” the unidentified military source said.

The Israeli military denied more than one plane had been hit.

Conricus said Iran was “responsible for this severe violation of Israeli sovereignty”.

“IDF (Israel Defence Forces) has targeted the Iranian control systems in Syria that sent the [unmanned aircraft] into Israeli airspace. Massive Syrian anti-air fire, one F16 crashed in Israel, pilots safe,” Conricus tweeted on Saturday.

Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig Gen Ronen Manelis, said Israel held Iran directly responsible for the incident.

“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,” he said. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, paid a rare visit to the Israel-Syria front on Tuesday and warned Israel’s enemies not to “test” its resolve. He did not mention by name Iran or its Lebanese militia ally, Hezbollah, both main players in Syria’s civil war.

Netanyahu has been cautioning against any attempt by Iran to deepen its military foothold in Syria or construct missile factories in neighbouring Lebanon.