Sunday , February 11, 2018 - 4:30 AM
(c) 2018, The Washington Post.
JERUSALEM - Israel’s military on Sunday confirmed that its downed F-16 fighter jet had been hit by a Syrian antiaircraft missile - the first plane it has lost to enemy fire in more than 35 years.
The Israel Defense Forces had been investigating whether the plane that crashed in Israel on Saturday after carrying out a bombing raid inside Syria had suffered a direct hit, had been struck by shrapnel or had crashed after its pilots ejected under fire.
“Our preliminary understanding is that the plane crashed due to a ground-to-air missile,” said IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Cornicus said Sunday. “It was hit.” The jet was one of eight planes carrying out a raid inside Syria to bomb the T4 air base near Palmyra, after the Israeli military said an Iranian drone operated from the base had crossed into Israel.
The Israeli military has said the drone was on a “mission” but has not given further details or commented on whether the drone was armed. Iran has dismissed the claim as “ridiculous.”
Israel has not lost a plane in combat since 1982, when one of its jets was also brought down by the Syrians. After the jet was downed on Saturday, Israel embarked on its most extensive bombing campaign inside the country since that year, when it moved to destroy Syria’s antiaircraft capacity.
In the first direct public acknowledgment of a strike inside Syria during the country’s civil war, Israel said it had bombed 12 military sites across the border - eight Syrian and four that it said were Iranian.
One of the two Israeli pilots who ejected from the downed plane was seriously injured. Cornicus said Israel’s initial response to the hit on the plane was over. “We aren’t looking to escalate the situation.”
However, he said the Iranian incursion vindicated Israel’s warnings about Iran’s increasing hegemony in the region. “This is a taste of what may be in store,” he said.
Israel has been accused by Syria of repeatedly bombing inside its borders as it voices concerns about an increasing presence of Iranian fighters and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah in the country.
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