The Middle East’s Coming War
RONEN BERGMAN FEB. 12, 2018
Remains of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet that crashed in northern Israel on Saturday, after coming under antiaircraft fire. Credit Abir Sultan/European Pressphoto Agency
In the early hours of Saturday morning, the Middle East was on the brink of yet another war.
During the night, according to my high-ranking sources, Israel’s intelligence services had been tracking an Iranian drone that was launched by the Quds division of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the Tiyas air base in central Syria.
A minute and a half after the drone entered Israeli airspace, an Israeli Air Force attack helicopter shot it out of the sky. Simultaneously, eight Israeli fighter jets fired missiles at the drone’s command and control center at Tiyas, blowing it up, along with the Iranians manning the center. (Iran has denied that its drone was shot down or that its troops were killed.)
The Syrian military, allied with Iran, responded by firing surface-to-air missiles at the Israeli jets. The missiles locked onto two Israeli aircraft. One of these managed to evade the rockets, but the other was hit by fragments of the exploding missile. The two-man crew ejected and landed in Israeli territory. One of them was gravely wounded.
This was the first aircraft that Israel had lost in combat since 1982, and its air force, its reputation for invincibility injured, responded angrily by striking at the Syrian air defense system, knocking out five batteries, as well as destroying four Iranian communications facilities in Syria.
The response to the downing of the Israeli jet was intended to be a lot more violent. Israel has long maintained contingency plans for a huge offensive operation in Syria. On Saturday, the generals took them out of the drawer. But the Iranians and the Syrians, along with their Lebanese ally Hezbollah, realized that something like that was in the offing, and let it be known that they would not let it happen without responding. The Israelis heard this, but were not deterred. The Israel Defense Forces went on to a war footing.
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