TEL AVIV – The downing of an Israeli F-16 by Syrian air defenses two weeks ago was due to pilot error, an investigation carried out by the Israel Air Force published Sunday found.
“The air crew failed to adequately defend itself. Its actions did not match the needed order of priorities to address the missile threat it faced,” the report said.
The results of the probe were submitted to Israeli army chief Gadi Eisenkot on Sunday.
The F-16 was downed following an incursion by an Iranian drone on Saturday last week. The drone remained in Israeli airspace for a minute and a half before being destroyed by a combat helicopter. In response, Israel launched airstrikes on 12 Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria, including three air-defense batteries and four Iranian targets such as the control center that launched the drone.
Syria responded with a barrage of anti-aircraft missiles, hitting the F-16 and injuring the two pilots — who ejected — one seriously and another lightly.
According to the investigation, the mission was planned adequately and was based on sound intelligence. The F-16’s warning systems also functioned properly. The F-16, which was tasked with taking out the drone command control center, had left itself exposed. The investigation noted however, that the pilots’ ejection was the right move and had saved their lives.
“On the balance of completing the mission versus defending themselves … the crew made a professional error in failing to defend themselves,” the IDF said. “Their actions did not fit the required priorities in light of the threats they faced.”
The investigation noted that the Syrian anti-aircraft missile was an SA-5, a relatively old model that would usually be incapable of downing an F-16.
“The road to operational accomplishments often requires us to take risks,” Eisenkot said at a meeting with senior air force officers on Sunday where he received the results of the probe. “My expectation from every combat service member is to see the fate of the mission on his shoulders during the mission.”
Meanwhile on Sunday, Economy Minister Eli Cohen (Kulanu) claimed that 11 people were killed in the retaliatory strikes in Syria.