Israel’s military launched a “large scale attack” Saturday after an Iranian drone infiltrated the country.
Israeli forces shot down the drone, and conducted raids in Syria, where the military said its planes hit at least 12 targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four targets that were part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria – the offensive marks Israel’s most substantial involvement in Syria to date.
An Israeli military spokesman warned that Iran was “playing with fire” and would suffer significant consequences.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the first round of strikes targeted Syrian troops and their Iranian-backed allies, including Hezbollah, in central Syria — where they are known to maintain bases – resulting in a numerous casualties, according to an unconfirmed report.
The second round hit outposts in the southwestern suburbs of Damascus, according to SOHR, which uses a network of activists on the ground to monitor events in Syria.
One Israeli pilot was reportedly seriously wounded during an emergency evacuation after the pilot’s F-16 jet came under Syrian fire. The jet crashed in northern Israel.
A second pilot was lightly wounded.
Israel’s military described the drone infiltration as a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty.”
Military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the drone was “on a military mission sent and operated by Iranian military forces” and that Iran was “responsible for this severe violation of Israeli sovereignty.”
The drone was in Israel’s possession, the military said.
According to Syrian state TV, which quoted a military official, Syrian air defenses struck more than one Israeli plane, and called the Israeli raids that hit a base a “new Israeli aggression.”
Israel’s military said it’s “ready for various scenarios and will continue to act according to situation assessments.
Although Israel has shot down several drones from Syria that have infiltrated the country’s territory in the past, the attack on an Iranian site in response to Saturday’s incident signals an escalation in the Israeli retaliation.
The military confirmed the Syrian target of the drone’s launch components were destroyed.
Iranian involvement along Israel’s border in Syria and Lebanon has been a growing concern as it fears Iran could use the region to position attacks or develop a land route from the country to Lebanon in an effort to deliver weapons to Hezbollah more efficiently.
Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said Israel held Iran directly responsible for the incident.
“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” he said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”
The acting commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard did not acknowledge Israel’s claim it shot down the drone.
“We do not confirm any such news from Israel,” Gen. Hossein Salami said.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasem called the Israeli claim “ridiculous.”
However, the joint operations room for the Syrian military and its allies denied the drone violated Israeli airspace, saying it was on a regular mission gathering intelligence on Islamic State militants.
Syria’s Defense Ministry said in statements on its website that its air defenses responded successfully to the Israeli operation and hit more than one plane. “The Israeli enemy has once again attacked some of our military bases in the southern area and our air defenses responded and foiled the aggression,” it said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman were convening the top brass at military headquarters in Tel Aviv to discuss further response.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.