Israel targets 'Iranian' positions in Syria after F16 downed

Israel targets 'Iranian' positions in Syria after F16 downed

AFP / Jack GUEZ
An Israeli fighter jet crashes in northern Israel on February 10, 2018 after coming fire from Syrian air defenses in one of the biggest confrontations between Israel and Iran arch in years
Israel attacked what it said were Iranian positions in Syrian air defenses and crashed. Following the most serious confrontation between arch Israel and Iran since Syria’s civil war began in 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to prevent Tehran from establishing a threatening military presence in the Arab state.
Israel’s raids came after it was said that it was an Iranian drone entering its airspace from Syria, calling it an “attack”. Washington backed Israel and blamed Iran for escalation. It has been the first time in Iran since the beginning of the conflict. Iran denounced Israeli “lies” and said Syria had the right to self-defense in response to the strikes. Separately, Iran issued a statement with Syria’s other hand allies – Russia and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah – denying Israel’s drone allegations. Russia’s foreign ministry urged “restraint” by all parties, adding it was “unacceptable to create threats to the lives and security of Russian soldiers” in Syria. Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus warned that Syria and Iran were “playing with fire”, but stressed that his country was not seeking an escalation. “This is the most blatant and severe Iranian violation of Israeli sovereignty” in recent years, Conricus told journalists. – ’12 targets attacked ‘- Israel said its retakes were “broad-scale” raids on Syrian air defense systems and Iranian targets. “Twelve targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets that are part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria were attacked,” a military statement said. The two crews of the crashed F16 were alive after ejecting, although one was severely wounded, the military said. They landed inside Israel and were taken to hospital. Israel said the confrontation began with the drone entering its airspace before being intercepted by a helicopter. Conricus said it was intercepted well inside Israel north of the city of Beit Shean, near the Jordan border. He did not say whether the drone was armed, but it was “an Iranian military forces” from an “Iranian base” in the Palmyra area. Eight Israeli aircraft then “targeted the Iranian control systems in Syria that feels the UAV” and confirmed hits, Conricus said. He said the aircraft puts “massive Syrian anti-air fire”, and the F16 later came down in northern Israel’s Jezreel valley. Damascus said its air defenses repelled two Israeli raids on its military bases in central Syria, hitting more than one warplane during the first. – ‘Israel wants peace’ – The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said Israel had several bases in the east of the central province of Homs. It said the bases are used by both Iranians and Russians in support of the regime. Syrian state media said the following raids targeted positions in the south. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi accused Israel of lying. “Iran does not have a military presence in Syria,” he said. The statement from Iran, Russia and Hezbollah dismissed Israel’s drone allegations as “lies”. It said Israel had targeted drones used against “terrorist organizations”, mainly the Islamic State group. Hezbollah in a separate statement said the F16’s downing marked the start of a “new strategic era”. Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, called on the Security Council “to condemn this dangerous act and to put an end to Iranian provocations”. Speaking after meeting defense officials, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel would not allow Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria. “Israel wants peace but we will continue to defend ourselves against any attack on Iran or even go anywhere else,” he said. Netanyahu also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Netanyahu said, adding that they agreed to continue their coordination on Syria. The Kremlin said Putin had stressed the need for “dangerous escalation”. – Still at war – Netanyahu said he also spoke to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is about to embark on a visit to the region. The US State Department said it “strongly supports Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself”, calling “for an end to Iranian behavior that threatens peace and stability”. “Iran’s calculated escalation of threat, and its ambition to project its power and dominance,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. Netanyahu has spoken with Putin several times in a few months in a bid to persuade Russia to limit Iran’s presence near Israel.

AFP / JALAA MAREY
A peacekeepers monitor the Israel-Syria border on the Golan Heights on February 10, 2018
Israel is technically at war with Syria and occupies a swathe of the strategic Golan Heights that it is seized in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community. Israel has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Syria conflict, but acknowledges the effects of having to do so.
Analysts said they did not expect a further escalation for now, but suggested the heavy anti-aircraft fire showed Israel’s strikes. Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group said Russia should be mediated since “it is the only stakeholder who has strong relations with all sides today”. But he said “this incident signals a new phase in the war in Syria”.

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