Israel on Saturday said it launched heavy air strikes in Syria, and hit air defenses and Iranian targets in retaliation of its F-16 fighter jet that was downed by Syria.
The Syrian army had claimed to have brought down an Israeli F-16 that crashed on Saturday in northern Israel in a major escalation of tension
The Israeli military said early assessments indicated the jet had been shot down by Syrian fire, but this was still unconfirmed.
Israel said later Saturday that it had attacked 12 additional targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets “that are part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria.”
Israel said the F-16 crashed during a mission to strike Iranian drone installations in Syria.
It said that it sent its jets into Syria after shooting down an Iranian drone over Israeli territory earlier on Saturday.
The military alliance fighting in support of Assad denied any of its drones had entered Israeli air space.
In a statement, it said Israel had targeted an air base in the Homs desert that is being used to fly drones in missions against Islamic State.
Such “terrorist action” by Israel would be met with a “severe and serious response,” it said.
The Israeli military spokesman said Israel did not seek escalation in the region, calling its action a “defensive effort triggered by an Iranian act of aggression”.
Iran’s expanding clout during Syria’s nearly seven-year-long war, including deployments of Iran-backed forces near the Golan frontier, has raised alarm in Israel.
This, it said, would act against any threat from its regional arch-enemy Tehran.
Iranian and Iran-backed Shi‘ite forces, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have deployed widely in support of Assad.
Iran’s military chief warned Israel last October against breaching Syrian airspace and territory.
Israel’s air force has targeted Syrian military and Hezbollah targets in Syria on an almost regular basis, but its attacks on Saturday appeared to be the most intense yet.
Referring to the downed Israeli F-16, an official in the pro-Assad alliance said a “message” had been delivered to Israel.
“I do not believe matters will develop to a regional war,” the official said.
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