Anti-aircraft fire downed an Israeli warplane returning from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria on Saturday in the most serious confrontations yet between Israel and Iranian-backed forces based across the border.
The F-16, one of at least eight Israeli planes despatched in response to what Israel said was an Iranian drone’s incursion into its airspace earlier in the day, was hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and crashed in northern Israel, an Israeli official told Reuters.
Both pilots ejected and were injured, one critically.
Israel then launched a second and more intensive air raid, hitting what it said were 12 Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria, including Syrian air defense systems.
Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group said the downing of the plane marked the “start of a new strategic phase” which would limit Israel’s ability to enter Syrian airspace.
Iran’s involvement in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad in a nearly seven-year-old civil war - including the deployment of Iran-backed forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights - has alarmed Israel, which has said it would counter any threat.