JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel shot down an Iranian drone over Israeli territory early Saturday morning, sparking a series of events that many feared could lead to an escalation in hostilities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Iranian drone incident on Saturday shows that "our warnings were 100 percent correct.
"I have been warning for some time about the dangers of Iran's military entrenchment in Syria," Netanyahu said in a statement released Saturday evening. "Iran seeks to use Syrian territory to attack Israel for its professed goal of destroying Israel. This morning Iran brazenly violated Israel's sovereignty. They dispatched an Iranian drone from Syrian territory into Israel. And this demonstrates that our warnings were 100% correct. Israel holds Iran and its Syrian hosts responsible for today's aggression. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereignty and our security."
In response to the drone penetration, Israel targeted a number of Iranian military sites in Syria, including its "aircraft's launch components in Syrian territory," the IDF said.
"The IDF sees the Iranian attack and the Syrian response as a severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty," the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement following the initial incident.
During the attack, Syria fired multiple anti-aircraft missiles at IAF aircraft.
An Israeli F-16 crashed inside Israel, but the pilots were able to eject and land inside Israel. One pilot is in serious but stable condition; the second was injured lightly.
Israel then mounted a second – what the IDF termed a "large-scale attack" – against the Syrian air defense system and Iranian targets inside Syria. According to a statement, they hit 12 targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four targets that are part of Iran's military establishment in Syria.
The anti-aircraft missiles fired toward Israel triggered air raid sirens, sending residents of northern Israel to bomb shelters early in the morning.
But by midday tourists were back out enjoying the unseasonably warm weather in Israel.
The IDF said it would "act determinately against such severe violations of Israeli sovereignty by Iran and Syria."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting of his security cabinet on the Sabbath – a day when much of Israel is closed.
Last week, during a visit to the northern border, Netanyahu said Israel wants peace but was prepared for any scenario.
According to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, the military alliance of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran and Hezbollah, warned Israel that any further act of what it called "terrorism" would elicit a "severe and serious response."
Iran accused Israel of lying about the drone entering Israeli air space, saying it uses drones to fight ISIS in Syria.
In a conference call, Brig. General (ret.) Yossi Kupperwasser, former director-general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and former head of the IDF's Intelligence Research and Assessment Division, told journalists he believes what happened this morning was "an attempt of the Iranians to shape the situation in Syria toward the end of the civil war" for their own interests.
"They want to turn Syria into an Iranian base from which they can threaten Israel both with their military capabilities and with their terror-supported capabilities," he explained. "They also want to turn Syria into an area from which they can transfer weapons to their surrogates, mainly Hezbollah."
According to Kupperwasser, because Israel has been trying hard to prevent that from happening, Iran is upping the ante by doing two things it hadn't done previously: attempting to strike or attack inside Israel, as they did this morning using the UAV, and attempting to build Iranian military industry inside Lebanon to provide Hezbollah with advanced weaponry.
Netanyahu discussed these matters with Russian President Putin on his recent trip to Moscow. But Kupperwasser said obviously Russia didn't put restrictions on Iran.
"Israel responded in a very strong manner and in the context of this exchange we lost a plane. Clearly it didn't stop Israel from making sure its messages were received on the other side – that we will not tolerate this kind of thing," he said.
He added that the Russians, Iranians and Syrians "will have to study" the incident. And that it showed that Israel is the only power in the Middle East willing to confront Iran.