Tensions Flare on Northern Border as Israel Shoots Down Invading Iranian Drone, Strikes Command Center

February 12, 2018

by: Ilse Strauss

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A timeline of Saturday’s events

Monday, 12 February 2018 │ This weekend marked a significant escalation in the already simmering tensions on Israel’s northern border. In what The Israel Project hails as the Islamic Republic of Iran’s “first direct military operation from Syria against Israel,” Tehran launched an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from the war-torn country in the early morning hours of Saturday, violating the Jewish state’s sovereign airspace.

The drone, a state-of-the-art prototype of an American model that Iran captured in 2011, took off from Syria’s T4 airbase, soared through Jordanian airspace, entered Israel’s northern Jordan Valley and was shot down by an Apache attack helicopter at 4:25, approximately a minute and a half after it breached the border. According to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesperson, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, the army had the UAV in its sights “long before” it crossed into Israeli territory.

Shooting down the drone triggered the Code Red air raid siren in the north of the country, which made for a literal rude awakening for Israelis across the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley.

The Iranian UAV invasion sparked what The Mideast Update calls “a miniature air war involving three nations.”

Less than an hour after intercepting the drone, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) scrambled eight jets to strike the UAV’s launch site. The Israeli planes were met with heavy fire, as the Syrian regime launched a barrage of approximately 20 surface-to-air missiles. One of the missiles exploded in close proximity to an Israeli jet and shrapnel caused the F-16I substantial damage. The jet’s two-man team—a pilot and a navigator—were forced to evacuate the disabled plane and parachute to safety in the Jewish state. Both airmen were evacuated to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa for treatment. The navigator suffered light injuries and was released from hospital yesterday. The pilot was severely wounded, but is now in stable condition. The plane crashed in the Lower Galilee.  

Some four hours after the drone breached Israel’s borders, the IAF launched a second series of strikes, targeting 12 military objectives, including three Syrian aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets that form part of Tehran’s growing military foothold on the Jewish state’s doorstep. Israel’s warplanes were once again met with heavy Syrian fire, which caused the morning’s second bout of air raid sirens to wail across the north of the country.

The strikes were considered successful. “We carried out a wide-scale attack on the aerial defense systems—radars, rockets, batteries, posts, and we performed a substantial strike,” explained Brig. Gen. Amnon Ein Dar, Head of the IAF’s Air Group, “the biggest and most significant attack the air force has carried out against Syrian air defenses since 1982.”

Later on Saturday, as the dust and smoke began to settle and the skies above the Golan Heights and the Galilee returned to a tense quiet, speculation started as to the implication of the Iranian aggression and whether it signals the start of a new era on Israel’s northern border. The incident did, after all, not only mark the most serious clash between Israel and Syria in decades, but also possibly the first official military action between Jerusalem and Tehran.

Since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, Israel has steadfastly guarded against becoming embroiled in the fighting on its border. At the same time, the Jewish state issued a clear red line: under no circumstances would it allow Iran—the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror and a country that threatens the Jewish state and its citizens with annihilation at regular intervals—to gain a military presence on its doorstep.

Israel’s concern on this matter is three-fold: that the Islamic Republic would use this foothold as a platform from which to launch attacks on the neighboring Jewish state; that Tehran would create a Shiite land corridor stretching from Iran to Lebanon that allows from the free flow of weapons and fighters between Israel’s enemies; and that Iran would capitalize on the chaos of the Syrian Civil War to smuggle state-of-the-art weapons to its proxy, Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction.  

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu —and various other high-ranking Israeli role-players—have pointed out this red line on a number of occasions and to various world leaders, particularly after it came to light that Iran is playing a leading role in constructing missile manufacturing sites in Syria and Lebanon to produce precision-guided missiles to be used against Israel.

Last month, Netanyahu told reporters in Moscow, “We are now on the cusp of a watershed moment of whether Iran will entrench itself there [in Syria and Lebanon] or if the process will be stopped… [I]f it is not stopped by itself, we will act to stop it. In practice, we are already operating.” The prime minister’s comments followed a meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Both Russia and Iran are considered close allies of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.

On Saturday morning, Israel’s warnings proved true. “What we have known for a long time is now clear to everyone: Iran wants to establish a front in Syria that is aimed at harming Israel,” said Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, Head of the Northern Command.

Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, also highlighted the danger that Tehran poses. “We constantly warn our friends in the world who think they can reach an arrangement with Iran. As far as we are concerned, we are not only talking about a nuclear danger, but also about a state that supports terrorism… Israel will not stand by as Iran wishes us ill and says so outright… we cannot accept Iran’s involvement here in our borders, at our gates.”

The Jewish state’s message—before and after Saturday’s incident—seems to be simple: Israel does not want war. At the same time, any endeavors to harm the country or its people will be met with considerable force. “We are not looking to escalate the situation,” Strick confirmed, “but we have abilities that we are not afraid to use.”  

Netanyahu echoed these sentiments yesterday during the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “[W]e dealt a serious blow to the armies of Iran and Syria,” he said. “We made it unequivocally clear to everyone that our rules of engagement have not changed in any way. We will continue to strike back at any attempt to harm us. This has been our policy and will remain our policy.”

Over the past two days, Israel has reportedly boosted its air defense systems on its borders with Syria and Lebanon. According to witnesses, a convoy of missile-defense batteries—including the Iron Dome for short-range projectiles, the David’s Sling, which targets medium to long-range rockets and the Arrow, which intercepts ballistic missiles outside the earth’s atmosphere—has been spotted heading north. The IDF has not corroborated the reports.    

In the meantime, Iran’s intention with the drone infiltration remains unclear. Some sources say that the UAV was sent to lead Israel into an ambush. Others argue that the Islamic Republic hoped to slip the drone past the Jewish state’s defenses unnoticed. Yet former IDF Spokesperson, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Peter Lerner points out in an op-ed published yesterday in Forward, “The Iranians are famous for being long-term strategists, so the drone was clearly a planned provocation… The question remains, will this be the first move of the game of chess in what will later be known as the first Israel-Iran War?”

On Saturday morning, the sound of wailing air raid sirens woke citizens in northern Israel. Following repeated warnings from Israeli leaders regarding Iran's growing military foothold in Syria and Lebanon, tensions erupted into actual attacks. Although we pray that the current situation will not escalate further, the reality is that the lives of Israel’s civilians are being affected. Through its “Victims of War” fund, Bridges for Peace reaches out with God’s unfailing love in times of conflict. With this increased tension in the north, we need to be ready to help. Would you consider sending a donation today?

Posted on February 12, 2018

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 12 February 2018)

Photo Credit: IDFBlog

Photo License: Israel Defense Forces