Security officials believe the downing of an Israeli Air Force jet over the weekend will make Iran more determined to bolster its military presence in Syria, surmising that additional clashes are just around the corner.
The F-16 fighter jet that was shot down by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile on Saturday was one of at least eight Israeli jets dispatched to the border region in response to what an Iranian drone’s incursion into Israel’s airspace earlier in the day. Both the pilot and the navigator manning the aircraft ejected and were injured.
Israel Defense Forces officials said on Sunday that Syria and Iran were dealt a heavy blow over the weekend, warning that in the next time the situation escalates Israel will strike more forcefully and will hit a greater number of Syrian targets, including surface to air missiles batteries.
“We cannot allow Iran to have bases with missiles and aircraft [in Syria],” a defense official said on Sunday. The IDF has bolstered its presence along the northern border in the wake of the incident and has begun to examine the wreckage of the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle that was intercepted.
But despite the heightened tensions, the IDF went out of its way to show that its normal activities have not been interrupted. GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick spoke Sunday at the 210th Division’s change of command ceremony in northern Israel, issuing a stern warning to Iran and Syria: “What we knew all along has become very apparent. Iran wants to create a forward operating base on Syrian soil to inflict harm on Israel, but we will not let this happen, we will not put Israeli citizens at risk and we will not allow the region be destabilized.”
Strick said that “Israel does not want an escalation, but we have strong capabilities and we will not hesitate to use them. We did so in the past, we did so on Saturday and we will continue to do so as needed.”
Strick said that “the past several days underscore the combustible nature of this area along the Syrian border and the many daunting challenges this division faces.” Strick added that “a division whose home is the Syrian border has a role that could not be overestimated in this reality.”
Speaking to his cabinet at the weekly meeting Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel “dealt hard blows to Iranian and Syrian forces.” He warned that “we have set some clear red lines and we will continue to adhere to them.”
Syria’s state media praised its forces’ conduct over the weekend, repeatedly broadcasting footage of the Israeli jet and playing down the damage sustained by Syrian targets.
According to Arab media, Iranian forces were killed during the Israeli retaliation. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said several Syrian soldiers were killed and several others were critically injured. The Wall Street Journal said that according to local media, about 25 people died in the Israeli strikes.