Israel carried out extensive airstrikes inside Syria on Saturday, targeting what the Israeli military said were air defense batteries and army bases as well as Iranian positions, in a day of dramatic cross-border confrontations as the threat of a wider regional conflict looms.
The Israeli military said it launched the “large scale attack” after one of its F-16 fighter jets crashed under Syrian antiaircraft fire. Eight Israeli jets had been responding to an incursion by an Iranian drone launched from Syrian territory by bombing a Syrian air base, Israel said.
Seeking to contain Iran and its proxies, Israel has regularly carried out airstrikes inside Syria, though not on this scale.
If a direct hit on the Israeli aircraft is confirmed, it would be the first time an Israeli jet has been brought down by enemy fire since 1982. The strikes that followed were Israel’s most significant bombardment inside Syria since the beginning of the nearly seven-year civil war — hitting 12 military sites in the country — eight Syrian and four that Israel said were Iranian.
The United States, Goldstein said, is “deeply concerned” about the escalation of violence and holds Iran responsible.
But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahran Qasemi disputed the Israeli account, describing the claim that an Iranian drone had crossed the border as “ridiculous.” He said the Syrian government had the right to defend itself by shooting down the Israeli jet.
The Syrian state news agency, meanwhile, described the airstrikes in Syrian territory as a “new Israeli aggression.” A military alliance backing Assad said that any other incursion by Israel would be met with “serious and fierce” retaliation.
The Israeli strikes also riled Russia, which has forces deployed in Syria as part of Moscow’s effort to defend Assad’s government against a wide range of rebel groups seeking his ouster.
But Russia is seen by Israel as a key to de-escalating the heightening crisis by influencing Iran to contain its presence.
Moscow said the Israeli airstrikes on Syrian bases potentially imperiled Russian military advisers stationed there. “The creation of any threat to the lives and safety of Russian military servicemen currently in Syria on the invitation of its lawful government to help fight terrorists is absolutely unacceptable,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Netanyahu said that he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin to reiterate “our right and obligation to defend ourselves.” He said that the two leaders agreed that their military cooperation would continue.
Netanyahu’s statement came after the prime minister held an emergency meeting with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv.