Tensions in the Middle East escalated Saturday as the Syrian army apparently brought down an Israeli F-16 war plane that crashed in northern Israel, according to published reports. Israel retaliated with a heavy air strike that hit 12 targets in Syria.
The F-16 and at least seven other Israeli planes were dispatched after an Iranian drone reportedly traveled into Israeli airspace. The fighter jet crashed while returning from its mission, and fell in an empty field near Harduf, east of Haifa. Both F-16 pilots ejected before the crash and were injured, one critically, Reuters news reported.
In retaliation, Israel launched another, more intensive air strike “that included Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria, including Syrian air defense systems," according to the report.
"We heard a big explosion and then sirens. We didn’t know what was happening, we heard helicopters and planes in the air,” Yosi Sherer, 51, who was staying at a hostel in Beit Shean, told Reuters.
The drone that kicked off the chain of events reportedly flew over Israeli airspace for nearly two minutes. It is not clear if the drone was conducting surveillance and intelligence gather or it was planning a strike against Israeli civilians, Ynet News reported.
What are leaders saying about the attack?
“Israel seeks peace but we will continue to defend ourselves steadfastly against any attack against us or any attempt by Iran to establish itself against us in Syria,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Netanyahu said in a televised statement.
A Pentagon spokesman said United States supports Israel’s action to defend itself, Reuters reported. Additionally, a State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” about the “escalation of violence over Israel’s border.”
Israel and Syria both indicated they were not planning to a bigger conflict, Reuters reported. Iran’s involvement in the Israeli-Syrian tensions is linked to its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The attack marked the first time since 2006 that Israel lost an aircraft in combat.
The Israeli military released the following footage of what it said shows the destruction of the drone’s control vehicle in Syria.