DEBKA

An aerial clash occurring between, Syria and Iran early Saturday Feb. 10, is ongoing. An Iranian drone was downed after entering Israeli air space from Syria. An Israeli F-16 was hit while attacking the Iranian launch pad.

The Iranian drone was downed over the Golan heading towards Tiberias. The incident triggered sirens in the Bet Shean valley as an Israeli Patriot and aircraft were scrambled to shoot it down. According to the IDF communique, the Iranian drone was successfully intercepted by an Apache combat helicopter and The drone was downed by an Israeli Apache and recovered intact. The drone was quickly identified by Israel air defense systems and tracked all the way until it was brought down. Israel retaliated with an air strike against the Iranian launch pad near Palmyra in central Syria. The explosions heard in the Golan, causing another round of alerts, were caused by Syrian anti-air fire which hit one of the Israeli F-16 planes. The two pilots ejected safely in northern Israel and were taken to hospital in stable condition. Residents were advised to remain vigilant since the event is still ongoing.

This was the first direct military incident between Israel and Iran since the Syrian war broke out in 2011.DEBKAfile’s military sources reported on Wednesday, Feb. 7, that Iran had recently armed its military units in Syria and its Hizballah proxy with a supply of its newest drone, Mohajer 6 (Migrant) which carries smart precision bombs. The IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkot has convened an urgent meeting of the General Command and is managing the incident together with the Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amiram Nurkin.

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The Israel Project

Overnight Iran launched its first direct military operation against Israel, dispatching a drone commanded from the Tiyas Airbase in Syria’s central Homs region [a][b].

The Israelis used an Apache helicopter to intercept and down the drone [c], then sent four jets to destroy the command center (an Israeli military spokesperson confirmed “accurate hits of Iranian UAV control facility” [d]). One of the Israeli F-16s was abandoned by its pilots over Israel, amid what the Israelis describe as “massive Syrian anti-air fire” [e][f]. Syrian anti-aircraft fire reached Israeli territory, triggering extended emergency activities in Israel’s northern communities [g].

Iran and its proxies had been escalating their threats to attack Israel over the last few weeks. Hezbollah threatened to attack Israel for a range of reasons, from energy resource disputes [h] to the Israelis building a border fence [i]. Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, one of the front-runners to be the next Iranian Supreme Leader, toured the Israeli-Lebanese border and boasted about operations to secure “Jerusalem’s liberation” [j].

A couple of things to watch:

(1) Military — Iran and its proxies have structured their forces in Syria and Lebanon to guarantee mass casualties during their next war with Israel — In Syria, Hezbollah says it has 10,000 fighters ready to attack Israel and to create a single front across all of Israel’s north and northeast [k]. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has transformed hundreds of villages into “military strongholds,” according to the AP, effectively conscripting human shields who will become civilian casualties blamed on Israel, according to the NYT [l][m]. They’ve stockpiled roughly 150,000 rockets and missiles, allowing them to saturation bomb Israeli population centers with 1,500 rockets and missiles per day for over three months, and Hezbollah chief Nasrallah says the group will use those projectiles against Israel’s civilian nuclear installations and chemical facilities, triggering tens of thousands of casualties [n][o][p]. Hezbollah leaders also say their Syrian battle experience will allow them to launch a ground invasion of Israel, in part through advanced hardened military tunnel infrastructure [q][r].

(2) DC politics and policy — The exchanges touch nuclear and non-nuclear Iran issues — On nuclear, recent reports confirmed that parts of the windfall Iran received from the nuclear deal flowed to Hezbollah [s]. On non-nuclear, the Trump administration this month targeted Hezbollah with sanctions [t]. Differing proposals to fold missile restrictions into the nuclear deal are at the core of the debate over President Trump’s request for Congress and Europe to “fix” the deal [u][v][w][x].

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