Is­rael strikes Ira­nian tar­gets deep in Syria

Mil­i­tary shoots down in­fil­trat­ing Ira­nian drone be­fore Is­raeli F-16 crashes

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NATION | WORLD - BY ARON HELLER AND SARAH EL DEEB

JERUSALEM — In its most se­ri­ous en­gage­ment in neigh­bor­ing Syria since fight­ing there be­gan in 2011, Is­rael shot down an in­fil­trat­ing Ira­nian drone Satur­day and struck Ira­nian tar­gets deep in Syria be­fore one of its own jets was downed.

The sud­den es­ca­la­tion of­fers what could be a har­bin­ger of what lies ahead as the Syr­ian fight­ing winds down and an em­bold­ened Iran es­tab­lishes a mil­i­tary pres­ence that Is­rael vows it will never ac­cept.

Is­rael has is­sued sev­eral stern warn­ings of late about the in­creased Ira­nian in­volve­ment along its bor­der in Syria and Le­banon. The Is­raeli Cab­i­net just held a meet­ing near the Syr­ian bor­der to high­light the new threats, which it at­tributes to Iran’s grow­ing con­fi­dence given the suc­cess of the gov­ern­ment of Bashar As­sad in the Syr­ian civil war thanks to their sup­port.

Is­rael called the drone in­fil­tra­tion a “se­vere and ir­reg­u­lar vi­o­la­tion of Is­raeli sovereignty” and warned that Iran would be held ac­count­able for its med­dling, rais­ing the specter of a larger con­fronta­tion in an area that has re­mained largely sta­ble since a month­long war be­tween Is­rael and Hezbol­lah in Le­banon in 2006.

“This is a se­ri­ous Ira­nian at­tack on Is­raeli ter­ri­tory. Iran is drag­ging the re­gion into an ad­ven­ture in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Is­rael’s chief mil­i­tary spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said in a spe­cial state­ment. “Who­ever is re­spon­si­ble for this in­ci­dent is the one who will pay the price.”

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and De­fense Min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man con­vened the top brass at mil­i­tary head­quar­ters in Tel Aviv for long hours of emer­gency con­sul­ta­tions through­out the Jewish Sab­bath to dis­cuss their next steps.

Ne­tanyahu said he spoke with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and vowed to strike back hard.

“Iran seeks to use Syr­ian ter­ri­tory to at­tack Is­rael for its pro­fessed goal of de­stroy­ing Is­rael,” he said. “Is­rael holds Iran and its Syr­ian host re­spon­si­ble for to­day’s ag­gres­sion. We will con­tinue to do what­ever is nec­es­sary to pro­tect our sovereignty and our se­cu­rity.”

Is­rael also ap­pealed to the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to de­nounce Iran’s ag­gres­sion and “put an im­me­di­ate end to Ira­nian provo­ca­tions.”

Is­rael would not con­firm whether its air­craft was ac­tu­ally shot down by en­emy fire, which would mark the first such in­stance for Is­rael since 1982 dur­ing the first Le­banon war.

Is­rael fears Iran could use Syr­ian ter­ri­tory to stage at­tacks or cre­ate a land cor­ri­dor from Iran to Le­banon that could al­low it to trans­fer weapons more eas­ily to Hezbol­lah — Le­banon’s Ira­nian-backed po­lit­i­cal party and mil­i­tant group sworn to Is­rael’s de­struc­tion. Though Is­rael has largely stayed out of the Syr­ian con­flict, it has struck weapons con­voys des­tined for Hezbol­lah — which is fight­ing along­side Syr­ian forces — al­most 100 times since 2012.

But Is­rael has re­frained from strik­ing Ira­nian sites di­rectly. Syria has also re­peat­edly said it will re­spond to Is­raeli airstrikes but has rarely re­turned fire. Both of those trends came to an abrupt end Satur­day as a rapid es­ca­la­tion played out in the early morn­ing hours.

[AP PHOTO]

Is­raeli se­cu­rity stands around the wreck­age of an F-16 that crashed Satur­day in north­ern Is­rael, near the kib­butz of Har­duf. The Is­raeli mil­i­tary shot down an Ira­nian drone it said in­fil­trated the coun­try early Satur­day be­fore launch­ing a “large-scale at­tack” on at least a dozen Ira­nian and Syr­ian tar­gets in­side Syria, in its most sig­nif­i­cant en­gage­ment since the fight­ing in neigh­bor­ing Syria be­gan in 2011. Re­spond­ing anti-air­craft fire led to the down­ing of an Is­raeli fighter plane.

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