Syrian Conflict Escalates As Israeli Fighter Jet Is Shot Down

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet was shot down by Syrian military forces on Saturday, 10 February – the first Israeli aircraft lost in the conflict since 2006. The F-16 was part of a larger air strike in Syria, conducted in response to an Iranian UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) intercepted by Israel. Bahram Qassemi, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman blatantly denied the entry of an Iranian drone in Israeli airspace, claiming all such reports were “too ridiculous to be addressed.”

The fighter jet crashed returning from the strikes after facing heavy cross-fire on its way back from airstrikes that obliterated nearly half of Syria’s anti-aircraft batteries. The two pilots on board ejected in Harduf, a village in northern Israel, moments before the crash. The move signifies direct involvement from Israel, marking a perilous new phase in the Syrian war.

According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a second wave of airstrikes against four Iranian military sites in Syria and eight other Syrian targets. Tomer Bar, an Israeli air force general, called Israel’s response the “most significant attack” against Syria since the war in Lebanon in 1982. IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said in a statement that Israel would respond in full measure however, they “are not looking to escalate the situation.”

Further, Iran has been accused of supplying weapons and ammunition to the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah, which has supported Syria in the war. The attacks show how Syria is being used as a pawn in the proxy war between arch-enemies Iran and Israel. Amos Harel, an Israeli journalist wrote that Syria’s retaliation indicates “the regime’s newfound sense of power.” The pro-Iran Hezbollah released a statement saying, “today’s developments mean the old equations have categorically ended.”

Over the past few days, a Turkish helicopter was shot down while attacking Kurdish fighters and a Russian plane bombing rebel territory was also brought down. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, a UN Human Commissioner, said that the death of over 277 civilians has made the past week one of the deadliest since 2011.

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, expressed “serious concern” over the sudden escalation and urged the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to show restraint on a phone call last Saturday. Russia is an ally of Iran and has close ties with Israel as well. In addition, the Russian government provides military aid to Syria. Due to their ubiquitous presence in the region, Russia commands a degree of influence over all parties involved and could stop the situation from spiralling out of control.

The Pentagon denied any involvement in Israel’s airstrikes but said Israel had the right to defend its borders. Heather Nauert, the State Department’s spokeswoman, said: “the United States is deeply concerned about today’s escalation of violence over Israel’s border and strongly supports Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself.” She added, “The US continues to push back on the totality of Iran’s malign activities in the region and calls for an end to Iranian behavior that threatens peace and stability.” Echoing the words of the United States, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus released a statement indicating that Israel plans payback in full measure, however, they “are not looking to escalate the situation.”

Iran has been constantly accused of supplying weapons and ammunition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Their goal is to create a de facto land corridor from Iran to Lebanon via Syria, enabling the transport of weapons to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah. Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s security cabinet minister recently warned of retaliation saying, “Assad and Hezbollah are the same, and if there will be an attack against us, we will not be obligated to act only against the source of the attack.”

The attacks show how Syria is being used as a pawn in the proxy war between arch-enemies Iran and Israel. Amos Harel, an Israeli journalist wrote that Syria’s response indicates “the regime’s newfound sense of power.” In addition, the pro-Iran Hezbollah released a statement saying, “Today’s developments mean the old equations have categorically ended.”

The chaos in Syria is getting further entrenched due to the rivalry between Israel and Iran. In recent months, Israel has carried out numerous strikes to defend so-called “red lines.” Syria’s construction work last November, in the Golan Demilitarized Zone which runs along the border, was also criticised by authorities as a violation of the 1974 ceasefire agreement. These events indicate that any future skirmishes between the bitter foes could risk entangling neighbouring Arab states from Yemen to Lebanon into the war.

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