Israel was about to get ‘a lot more violent’ with Syria after losing an F-16 — and then Putin stepped in

Picture: Getty Images
  • An Iranian drone was destroyed a minute and a half after it flew into Israeli airspace last Saturday.
  • Israel retaliated by destroying the drone’s command center, but lost one of its F-16s over Israeli airspace when it was returning from the mission.
  • Israel had planned further strikes against Iranian and Syrian targets but President Vladimir Putin prevented an all out attack by calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directly.

A simmering conflict between Israel, Iran, and Syria could have erupted into another regional war were it not for the intervention of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Last Saturday, an Iranian drone was launched from the Tiyas Military Airbase (also known as T-4) in Central Syria by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The drone was shot down by an Israeli Air Force attack helicopter just a minute and a half after entering Israeli airspace.

Israel responded to the incursion by sending eight F-16s into Syria to destroy the drone’s command and control center. After destroying the target, which resulted in the deaths of an unknown number of Iranians, the jets flew back into Israel, and suddenly came under attack from Syrian anti-aircraft missiles.

One of the missiles, an S-200, was able to take down an F-16, forcing the pilots to eject. Israel hit back, going after Syria’s air defence system.

“The response to the downing of the Israeli jet was intended to be a lot more violent,” according to Ronen Bergman, an Israeli investigative journalist. Israeli generals brought out plans “for a huge offensive operation in Syria,” Bergman writes in a New York Times op-ed.

A “furious” phone call from Putin “was enough to make Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel cancel the plans,” Bergman writes.

Israel intercepts Iranian drone
A screenshot showing the destruction of the Iranian drone a few seconds after it was hit by an Israeli missile. Israel Defence Forces/YouTube

A former Israeli army general appeared to confirm Bergman’s reporting.

If the F-16 hadn’t been shot down “we would be able to keep this issue at a very very low profile,” Udi Dekel, a former Israeli army brigadier general who was the head of the IDF’s Strategic Planning Division, said Wednesday on a call organised by the Israel Policy Forum.

“Because we lost the F-16, we decided to respond against many important targets inside Syria,” according to Dekel. Among the targets were air defences, Syrian Army positions, and Iranian positions around Damascus.

Israel, Dekel said, wanted “to send a message that we could not accept any idea that they would try to shoot down our aircraft in our skies.”

But an all out attack never happened. Dekel said that the decision not to go forward with the strikes was because Israel wanted to see the Syrian and Iranian response. But he added that there was “intervention by the Russians who asked us not to escalate the situation anymore and to try and calm down the situation.”

Israel has long been worried about Iran’s activities and growing influence in the region, especially Syria. These recent actions will likely increase tensions in the Middle East.

Dekel said that he does not believe this will be the “end of the story.”

“We killed Iranians operating the UAV and in other locations, so I assume they will try to find any opportunity for revenge against us,” he said.