Russia-aided Syria shoots down Israeli F-16 after downing of Iranian Drone

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Syrian anti-aircraft batteries scored a rare shoot-down of an Israeli F-16 late Saturday morning local time. It is being alleged by a whole range of analysts that this shoot-down could not have happened without Russian help. It required that the anti-aircraft personnel break Israeli radar jamming. Since Russia supplies Syrian anti-aircraft weaponry, and Russian technicians maintain it and train their Syrian colleagues, a Russian hand here is highly likely.


Israel has been attempting to inflict attrition on Iranian activities in southwestern Syria, as Maysam Behravesh reported for the Cairo Review of Global Affairs. These include transferring weaponry to Lebanon’s Hizbullah and the establishment of small facilities for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps in the Damascus region (the IRGC is said to have 2,500 personnel in Syria, mainly in an advisory capacity). The Iraqi Nujaba Party of God, a Shiite militia, is also active in Syria and is dedicated to the liberation of the Occupied Golan Heights.

At the same time, the Israelis took advantage of the Syrian revolution and the establishment of rebel positions in Quneitra Province (the Golan Heights and points east) to give support to the rebels, including the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front (Syrian Conquest Front). Gradually this Israeli-rebel nexus has produced what the Israelis call a “safe zone” abutting their occupied territory on the Golan, as Nour Samaha reported for the Intercept last month. Its purpose is to keep Hizbullah and Iran out of Quneitra and away from the Israeli border.

The current hostilities began when Iran is alleged to have launched a drone from Syrian Quneitra to track or target fundamentalist rebels in the Golan region backed by Israel. The Israelis shot down the drone and then launched an air raid. That was when Syria-Russia stepped in to shoot down the plane.

Israel dispatched an army helicopter to rescue its two pilots, who had ejected safely.

The Israelis claim to have launched several follow-up strikes against Iranian positions in Syria, and the Israeli cabinet met Saturday morning to consider further action.

If Russia was involved in the shoot-down, it may be a sign of Vladimir Putin’s growing determination to assert the prerogatives of the Russian sphere of influence in Syria. That sphere is being challenged by Israel in the southwest, Turkey in the north, and by the United States in the east. The targeting of the Israeli F-16 may in part have been intended to signal to Turkey and the US that intervening in Syria is going to be associated with heightened costs.


Bonus video:

International Crisis Group: “Israel, Hizbollah and Iran: Preventing Another War in Syria”

21 Responses

  1. At long last. Israel can continue to interfere in Syria and support the terrorist groups active in the southwest, but there may be heavy consequences in the long-term. One side note: ” Its purpose is to keep Hizbullah and Iran out of Quneitra and away from the Israeli border.” That is not the actual Israeli border. This would better read, “away from the Golan border,” since the zone of occupation prior to the Syrian civil war already extends nearly 20 miles into Syrian territory. Israeli expansionism should not be normalized, nor should their justifications of the need for strategic depth or security.

    • The Israeli government has been forming relationships with Syrian rebels – Salafists and Free Syrian Army – in both the Quneitra and Daraa governorates in the last few years in attempting to create a buffer zone between the Syrian Arab Army and the Israel-occcupied Golan Heights:

      link to

      Syrian rebel forces south of Damascus have benefitted from the Israel Air Force (IAF) strikes in the region. Opposition forces today reported that a Syrian government airfield tower was damaged in an air attack near Damascus and an arms depot in that area was also bombed by the IAF.

  2. this comes days after a US-proxy militia shot down a Russian aircraft. mentioned for context.

  3. Israel flies drones at will throughout Southern Syria.
    That’s what Syria really wants to stop.

  4. Back in 1975, the US and South Africa squared off against The Soviet Union and Cuba in Angola. Problem was, Cuba could put in troops without any serious domestic opposition from their home front. The US was fresh off of a disaster in Vietnam and so didn’t have a domestic mandate to get involved in Angola. When Cuba decided to call the wager made by the US, the US had to withdraw and Cuban troops occupied Angola for many years. Likewise in the situation with Russia and Iran backing Bashar al-Assad versus the US and Israel squaring off over Syria. The US doesn’t have a mandate to make any sort of serious commitment, so if the other guys make a serious effort, Israel will be all alone.

  5. The F-16 is normally a one seater. This may have been a variant with an electronics warfare capability, which would make downing it quite significant.

    Israel establishing a “security zone” to protect the Golan security zone is also quite rich.

    Especially in its full context, seems to me this was a forceful signal by Russia to all parties of certain lines which will not be crossed, perhaps reinforcing what was said earlier but then only in words.

  6. Reading other feeds, seems Israel is laying this all off on the Iranians. Which, naturally, is the smart move. Also in-line with their goal of demonizing Iran.

    Bullies don’t pick fights with those who can fight back effectively, and it took something to burn through that plane’s defenses that I doubt the Syrians or Iranians have.

    If this was done by other than Russia or the US it’d be huge in terms of unmasking Israeli vulnerabilities.

  7. Is Israel testing the water, by intimidating Putin through Assad? Will Putin running for re-election, Netanyahu with domestic corruption charges coming down on him, and a unstudied American president who leaves the dirty work to his generals be the cocktail mix that escalates this possible new Syrian war, and will this war end up in Tehran? One should also ponder the effect that Bibi Netanyahu has on son in law Jared Kushner. Can this influence translate to Ivanka whispering into daddy’s ear Israeli sweet nothings of war?

    The hot spots of the world are many. If Korea, Ukraine, Africa, and the Middle East weren’t enough, should we expect more military action via Venezuela? If so, then our mighty American Empire will be engaged on every continent the world has. Then ask yourself, can the U.S. military coordinate this big of a military project? Remember this is the real thing if she blows, and not another military exercise.

  8. Other accounts state that the Israeli jets faced a barrage of anti-aircraft fire yet only one plane was downed. Despite perhaps 100 previous strikes on Syria this is the first time Israel has lost an aircraft. My take is that the Russian missiles are utter rubbish: they have zero deterrent value and not much better wartime performance.

    – the drone supposedly was shot down over Israel so where are the pics of the wreckage?
    – just because it was allegedly an Iranian made drone doesn’t mean that Iranian forces were using it.

  9. Ilan Gilon, a member of the Israeli Knesset was one of several Knesset members who have publicly accused PM Netanyahu of initiating the aerial attacks on Iranian interests within Syria to divert attention from Israeli prosecuting officials who are expected to publish recommendations in the upcoming week relative to the criminal corruption investigation that has been pending against Netanyahu.

    The expected results of that corruption probe is predicted to cause public demonstrations by Israelis seeking his resignation.

  10. Israel has been flying sorties and attacking targets inside Syrian sovereign territory for years, in clear violation of international law.
    They just got punched in the nose…and deserve it.
    It’s just as likely Russian trained Syrians are now operating S-300 anti-aircraft batteries and Electronic Warfare systems.

  11. The only reason this was a rare shootdown is that Syria has been dealing with ISIS/Daesh/whatever. Now that they have cleared the Hamas/Idlib pocket, it appears Russia has taken over the role of enforcer in the northern provinces. This leave 15,000 Syrian troops ready to deploy to the Golan.

    There is no doubt Russia said, “Okay, you can start shooting them down, now.” Hezbollah, Syria, Palestine, Iran are all ready to take on Israel, and Putin says the sovereignty of Syria must be protected. I doubt there will be any more Israeli provocations.

  12. Something’s odd here. Why would Iran send a drone into Israel, knowing that the IDF would shoot it down and then retaliate? Were they looking for a “trophy” event to boast about the next day during their commemoration of the Iranian revolution? Or did someone screw up and make a mistake? They paid a price in the battering delivered to Syrian ground batteries. Just doesn’t seem to advance anyone’s interests here.

    • The drone was tracking the Syrian fundamentalists rebels in Quneitra supported by Israel, and whose sphere of control Israel is attempting to strengthen and expand.

      • There are plenty of photos and videos showing the wrekage of the F16 in Israel. Also, the crew parachuted into Israel and were airlifted to hospital for speed from within Isarel

        • The pilot and navigator were evacuated to a hospital in Haifa and interviewed about the incident, as reported in the Jerusalem Post.

          The navigator was lightly wounded, however the pilot was seriously wounded and in critical condition until he stabilized. According to those interviews, the F-16 was damaged by shrapnel from a missile and the crew of the jet could have been killed by the force of the blast alone from the anti-aircraft missile.

          One news account has said the jet actually crashed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights with smiling Syrians taking photos of the wreckage near a Jewish settlement.

          There were celebrations in Damascus over the F-16 downing with Syrian Arab Army soldiers handing out candy to passersby in the Syrian capital.

          The Israeli Air Force had – according to air defense experts – sustained a damaged F-35 jet last October due to a missile attack from Syria. This has been disputed by Israel, however.

    • It’s pretty clear Iran didn’t send the drone. They basically just sell the drones to Hezbollah. Understandably Hezbollah is tracking the fundamentalists backed by Israel, who are their direct enemies.

  13. .
    the S-300 air defense systems are mobile.
    the missile launchers have several hiding positions,
    and move to different positions to fire.

    The vehicle-mounted target acquisition, tracking and missile guidance radars are located remote from the firing batteries.
    multiple fake emitters should be deployed and operated to simulate the various radars and firing batteries.

    If employed properly,
    the threat to Israeli aircraft is probably mostly intact.
    if not,
    the Israelis may have put the ADA system out of commission, probably for months,
    before new equipment can be brought from Russia.
    Since the Israeli AF operates routinely over Syria,
    we should find out soon – within days – if the balance has truly shifted.

  14. Get real. Israel isn’t going to screw around with someone who can fight back effectively.

    They may probe, but it’s more likely they’ll come to an accommodation with what the Russians will tolerate. That plane was not hit by flack; it was hit from a distance, falling inside Israel on its return. That means a really capable missile, meaning the Russians after some (small) deliberation.

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