On Saturday, Iran flew a drone into Israeli airspace from a base located in Syria. The IDF shot down the drone and launched a retaliatory strike on the base, during which a Syrian antiaircraft missile apparently hit an Israeli F-16. (The pilot ejected to safety.) In response, Israel carried out extensive aerial attacks on targets in Syria. With this exchange, writes Yaakov Katz, the longstanding conflict between Tehran and Jerusalem—until now conducted by Iran through clandestine operations or via proxies—has moved out into the open:
This [moment] was long in the making. Years ago, the Iranians came to the rescue of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and, together with Russia, ensured his survival. The problem is that they haven’t left. On the contrary: even though Assad is today in control of the majority of Syria, Iran is staying put and trying to establish an even greater presence within the country. On Saturday, we saw how determined it is to do just that.
It is too early to tell what lesson Iran has learned from the clash on Saturday. On the one hand, it succeeded in infiltrating a drone into Israel [and] its ally Syria succeeded in shooting down an Israeli fighter jet. On the other hand, Israel carried out its most widespread bombings in Syria since it destroyed almost all of Syria’s air defenses in 1982. . . .
While the downing of a fighter jet is a heavy blow to Israeli morale, it was not totally unexpected and needs to be viewed through the wider context of what has been going on for the last five years. Israel has carried out more than 100 strikes in Syria, and in war there are always wins and losses. The fact that a plane hasn’t been shot down until now is the real story, and speaks volumes of the IAF’s superior capabilities.
Finally, Israel needs to be concerned by Russia’s response to the events on Saturday. In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling for restraint and for all sides to “respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria” [with no mention of the territorial integrity of Israel]. On the surface, it seems as if Russia is taking Iran and Syria’s side and not Israel’s, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s best efforts to win over Vladimir Putin. . . . Beyond the [Russian] statement’s rhetorical significance, it could have practical consequences if the Kremlin decides to deny Israel operational freedom over Syria in the future.