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Remains of Iranian drone shot down after crossing border and entering Israeli airspace

On Feb. 9th, Israel and Iran clashed for the first time when an Iranian drone from Syria penetrated Israeli airspace and was shot down by an Israeli Apache helicopter. A short time later, Israeli F-16 aircraft rocketed the Iranian command vehicle that had launched the drone not far from Russian military personnel also stationed at the Syrian base. A barrage of Syrian Russian-made rockets were then fired at the Israeli jets, hitting one and forcing the two-man crew bailout after making it back over the border into Israeli territory.

Since then speculation has run rife about just what happened and what could be the serious fallout. What is clear is that a new theater of operations is evolving as the Syrian Civil war winds down. First, Iran is striving to turn Syria into a forward base against Israel as it has already done with Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon. But Israel has announced loud and clear it will take military action to prevent Iran from doing so. In addition, it will continue to intercept Iranian shipments of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. These are two red lines Jerusalem has every intention of enforcing. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad is trying to extend his control over what is left of his battered state. Last but not least is Russian President Vladimir Putin, eager to cash in his dividends after preserving Assad in power by securing a strategic Russian port on the Mediterranean Coast. US President Donald Trump has opted to take a back seat while all this is going on.

So what's been happening? Military correspondent Roy Sharon of the Reshet Bet radio station has obviously been briefed by official sources. This is his translated account.

The Russians have encouraged the Syrians to dramatically increase their anti-aircraft fire at Israeli aircraft in the past six weeks. (Bear in mind that previously Putin and Netanyahu had worked out an arrangement that enabled Israel to attack Iranian's weapons convoys traveling through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon). But now Israel's campaign against Iranian expansion in Syria has become far more complicated. Several minutes before 4 AM on Feb.14th, an Iranian drone command vehicle, located at a Syrian base 300 kilometers from the Israeli border, launched a pilotless drone headed for Israel. The Israeli Airforce immediately detected the drone and the decision was made to wait to intercept it until to crossed into Israeli airspace. An Apache chopper was assigned to destroy the drone once it had. Remnants of the drone have been collected and are now being analyzed by IDF intelligence. A complete assessment is to be presented to the new Air Force commander, Gen. Norkin, within a few days. Incidentally, the Iranian drone is a copy of an American model that went down over Iran several years ago (this indicates that the Iranian drone was flown over Israel to gather intelligence).

At the same time, the Israelis decided to launch four F-16 jets to destroy the Iranian command vehicle that had launched it. However, before the green light, IDF intelligence had to ascertain that no Russian personnel stationed at the Syrian base could be injured. All this had to be decided within twenty minutes. When it became clear that no Russians were endangered, Chief of Staff Gadi Izenkot himself gave the order to rocket the Iranian vehicle which was moving at the time. The aircrafts were flying in pitch black at a high altitude due to high cloud cover. The F-16s fired the rockets from a distance of hundreds of kilometers and were able to verify that the Iranian vehicle had been destroyed.

However, the fact that an Israeli jet had been shot down sent shock waves through Israel. Rightly or wrongly, Israelis believe their pilots are the best in the world. In fact, it was the first time that an Israeli jet had been shot down in decades despite its continual combat operations. This is a combination not only of the pilot's skills and intensive training but also due to top secret high-tech innovations, many of which are shared with the US. In any case, it came as a shock that an Israeli jet fighter could be shot down. Not only that it was not by a super-duper new Russian S-300, but by a much older garden-type model. There is no official word yet and there may never be; but although our reporter notes that the pilots had to guide their rocket to the drone vehicle on the ground, they could still have evaded all the numerous missiles that the Syrian anti-aircraft batteries had launched at them. It is also noteworthy that this area of Syria is one of the most densely covered areas of anti-aircraft batteries in the world.

The Israeli assessment is that Putin is interested in helping his pal Bashar Assad in re-imposing his control over Syria, such as its airspace, and this includes launching missiles at Israeli aircraft that are bent on keeping arch-enemy Iran at bay. The Machiavellian Putin does not want the Iranian-Israeli confrontation to screw up his domination over Syria. As a result, the Kremlin issued a not so veiled caution to Israel that it would be intolerable if Russian troops in Syria were endangered! (Naturally, everyone remembers Putin's reaction when Turkey shot down a Russian jet that flew inadvertently into Turkish airspace.)

This emerging imbroglio is challenging the Israeli Airforce to go back to the drawing board and come up with some new operational tactics and intelligence gathering in order to prevent an escalation and to avoid hitting not only Russian but also Syrian personnel. This requires even more precision bombing of mainly Iranian targets in Syria as well as weapons, vehicles, and buildings. And naturally, at the same time to avoid being shot down. In the past, this included hundreds of aerial reconnaissance flights over Lebanon and more than 100 actual air strikes.

However as good as the Israel Airforce may be, there is no 100 percent 'hermetic' system, and advanced weaponry may have reached Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. And in other words, 'Hezbollah may now have precision missiles that can reach strategic targets in Israel'. But not to worry according to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman:

'Now is not the time to bark, now is the time to bite, and if need be we will bite hard!'

David Essing





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