CONTENT PREVIEW
Country Risk

Likely Syrian miscalculation of Israeli commitment to “red lines” over Iranian expansionism raises war risks

12 February 2018

Key Points

  • The launching of an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle into Israeli airspace (the first such incident recorded) was likely a test of Israeli reaction.
  • The scale of Syrian air defences’ response to the initial Israeli air strikes was unprecedented and probably reflects Syria’s longstanding strategy in its civil war of drawing its backers into ever greater support by escalating against its enemies.
  • This dynamic indicates a rising risk of war that would see significant damage to Israeli infrastructure and residential areas, as well as crippling damage to Lebanese and Syrian infrastructure and government targets.

Event

Israel claimed on 9 February that an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle entered Israeli airspace and was shot down. In response, Israeli aircraft carried out strikes on targets in Syria, in the course of which an Israeli F-16 fighter aircraft was brought down.

The remains on 10 February of an Israeli F-16 that crashed in northern Israel after coming under fire by Syrian air defences during attacks against “Iranian targets”. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)The remains on 10 February of an Israeli F-16 that crashed in northern Israel after coming under fire by Syrian air defences during attacks against “Iranian targets”. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel claimed that the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was Iranian-manufactured and was launched from the Tiyas Air Base (T4 airbase) in Syria’s Homs governorate. The UAV was allegedly shot down by an Israeli helicopter; however, the Iranian and Syrian authorities denied any incursion into Israeli air space. Israel retaliated by carrying out airstrikes on the T4 airbase. Israeli aircraft were engaged by what appears to have been dozens of anti-aircraft missiles.

One Israeli F-16 fighter aircraft was brought down, with its pilot and co-pilots ejecting inside Israeli territory. Israel responded to the downing of the aircraft by attacking 12 additional targets in Syria. These included four unspecified Iranian military bases and three Syrian air defence bases. Israel claims that almost half of the Syrian army’s air defences have been destroyed.

The Israelis have since attempted to draw a line following their latest airstrikes, reportedly following a call by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

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