A drone that took off from Syria and penetrated Israeli airspace in February was armed and on an Iranian mission to carry out an attack in Israeli territory, the Israeli military said Friday.
The drone was shattered by helicopter gunships, preventing the attack, according to the military, which did not disclose the supposed target.
The February episode set off a day of intense battle, escalating the conflict between Israel and Iran, one of several overlapping conflicts in the Syrian war. Israel’s announcement on Friday, hours before the American-led strikes against Syria, added another element of volatility into an already tense region.
The strikes launched by the United States, Britain and France against three chemical weapons storage and research facilities did little to assuage Israel’s concerns about the Iranian buildup across its northern frontier, according to experts, and the announcement could be intended to bolster Israel’s case for taking its own military action against Iran’s presence in Syria.
Iran entered the war to defend its ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, against a rebel insurgency. But as the rebel threat has waned, Iran has stayed, building a military infrastructure in Syria to create a land corridor to Lebanon and to counter Israel, adding to Iran’s ability to strike quickly to deter Israel from attacking its nuclear facilities.
Continue reading the main story
Israel has carried out scores of strikes in Syria against what are said to be convoys of advanced weapons destined for Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese organization.
After intercepting the drone in February, Israel attacked what it said was the command-and-control center Iran had used to launch it, at the T4 air base near Palmyra in Syria. Syria then shot down an Israeli F-16 fighter jet, the first Israeli plane lost to enemy fire in decades.
Israel responded with a broad wave of strikes against a dozen Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria.
Iran never confirmed that the drone was Iranian, but endorsed its mission. A commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, First Deputy Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, said, “This drone was not the first or last drone of the resistance front.”
This week, there was another missile strike on the same air base which Russia, Iran and Syria attributed to Israel. Several Iranian military advisers were killed in that attack, including a colonel who served as a senior officer in Iran’s drone program, according to Iranian news reports, and Iran has threatened to retaliate.
Israeli officials did not comment on the airstrike.
Commenting on the limited impact of the American-led strikes against Syria, Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief and now director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, wrote on Twitter on Saturday, “Israel faces the following challenges: Iran’s response to the attack on T4 in the coming days/weeks; a continuation of Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria; the risk of escalation deriving from both of these.”
The Israeli military had initially said it was not clear if the drone that penetrated northern Israel in February was armed or was on a reconnaissance mission.
The conclusion that it was armed was based on “flight path analysis and an operational and intelligence-based investigations” of the remnants of the pilotless aircraft, the military said.
Iran has not responded to the Israeli claim.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said there was “a high probability that the attack in Syria this week attributed to Israel was against an Iranian target that represented a similar threat” as the drone incursion in February.
Source » nytimes