Israel attacked multiple ground targets in Syria using airstrikes early Saturday morning. Although this is not the first time the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has struck targets in its neighbor’s territory, this operation was one of retaliation. While officials played down the likelihood of further escalation, there is also a real fear that such clashes will continue as both sides respond in kind to military actions against them.
At approximately 4.30 am, local time, Israeli forces sighted a drone being launched from a site within Syria. When the drone entered Israeli airspace, it was blown up by an Apache helicopter over the town of Beit Shean. In response to the incursion, Israeli jets attacked the launch site – an Iranian installation in Syria.
The Israelis were met with heavy anti-aircraft fire and one F-16 is believed to have been struck by a surface-to-air missile. The two-man crew ejected from the plane before it crashed on the Israeli side of the border. One of the men is reported to be in critical condition.
According to a Reuters report, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said that remnants of the missile had been recovered near the crash site. The exact type of missile has not been determined but Cornicussaid:“it’s a Syrian anti-aircraft missile.”
Threats and Warnings Exchanged
Iranian forces are operating in Syria in support of President Bashar Al-Asad. Israel and Iran have recently exchanged threats, with Israel warning that it will protect its territory and the Iranians threatening retaliation for Israeli incursions into Syrian airspace. Such threats did not deter Israel from responding to the apparent shooting down of its jet. The Israeli Air Force launched what one Israeli military officer described as the “most significant attack” against targets in Syria since the Jewish state’s war with Lebanon in the early 1980s.
The second Israeli airstrike hit multiple Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria, including eight targets near the Syrian capital, Damascus. Following the Israeli action, Russian officials cautioned both sides not to escalate the situation. Russia is also propping up the Asad regime which is still fighting Syrian rebels in a war that has killed hundreds of thousands.
The Many-Layered Syrian Conflict
The Syrian civil war has drawn in multiple outside interests and continues to represent the most volatile confrontation in the region for decades. Within Syria itself, rebels claiming to be fighting for a more democratic form of government continue to fight Asad’s army. The early successes of rebel forces pulled Russia into the fray to support the Syrian dictator. Iran also threw its direct support behind Asad and the rebels were soon pushed out of much of the territory they had gained. As the rebel forces were weakened, the Islamic State grew in power until a coalition of American, Kurdish and Syrian rebel forces finally destroyed their attempt to establish a Caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and Syria.
In the north of the country, Kurdish fighters have been trying to establish an autonomous Kurdish region and this has drawn Turkey into the fight.Additionally, the Iranian-back Lebanese terror group, Hezbollah has also been deploying against rebel forces.
Thus, Iran, Russia, and the United States have practically engaged in a proxy war, of sorts. Each side has a different motive for its engagement but Iran, in particular, has invested considerable material support in Syria. Clearly, the Iranians are attempting to establish a long-term presence in Syria and extend their influence. With the threat of Hezbollah, an Iranian surrogate, in Lebanon, Israel is unlikely to sit by and allow the Iranians to entrench themselves just across Israel’s northern border.