The Israeli Defense Forces shot down a Syrian fighter plane over the Israeli Golan Heights Tuesday morning using a Patriot missile, the Israeli army said.
The Jerusalem Post reports that the Israel Air Force detected a Sukhoi-24 Syrian fighter jet crossing into Israel’s air space at 8:57 am. The jet was a half-mile into Israeli air space when the IAF decided to shoot it down. About 80 seconds later, the jet was struck by an Israeli Patriot surface-to-air-missile.
The jet was in Israeli airspace when the decision to fire upon it was made, but it had already turned back toward Syria when the Patriot missile struck. The pilot and navigator ejected from the aircraft and parachuted into Syrian territory.
The Su-24 is a Cold War-era Soviet fighter, and is one of the Syrian Air Force’s primary aircraft. Israel believes the jet likely was looking to bomb Syrian rebel targets in the Syrian-Israeli border city of Quneitra. That town has been the scene of recent significant fighting between Syrian Army forces and al-Qaida linked al-Nusra Front rebels.
Syria confirmed that Israel had shot down a Syrian warplane in what it described as an act of aggression, confirming the first such incident since 1982. Syrian state TV quoted a military source saying the downing of the plane, which coincided with U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State in Syria, came “in the framework of (Israel’s) support for the terrorist (Islamic State) and the Nusra Front,” Reuters reported.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in response to the incident that the Syrian plane approached Israeli territory in a “threatening manner” and crossed the border.
“We’ve clarified this in the past and we’re emphasizing it again now: We won’t allow anybody, whether it’s a state or a terrorist organization, to threaten our security and violate our sovereignty,” the defense minister and former IDF chief of staff said. “We will respond forcefully to all attempts of this kind, whether it’s an accident or intentional.”
An IAF official said the jet could have reached the center of the country within a short time. In under a minute, it would have been over the Sea of Galilee, and within minutes, it could have gotten to nearly any major city in Israel.
In August, the IDF shot down a Syrian drone that had crossed into Israeli airspace in the same area. Israel believes the drone accidentally strayed into Israel.
The IAF official stressed that Israel has no interest in supporting the Syrian rebels, but that any aircraft that crossed the border would be shot down.