Israel Downs Syrian Fighter Jet That Entered Airspace

(Bloomberg) -- Israel downed a Syrian fighter jet that entered its airspace Tuesday, a serious escalation of tensions as Syria’s civil war heats up along the Israeli frontier.

The military “monitored the advance of the fighter jet, which infiltrated about two kilometers (one mile) into Israeli airspace,” the Israeli army spokesman’s office said by text message. “It was then intercepted by the Patriot missiles.”

It was the second time during the Syrian civil war that Israel has shot down a Syrian warplane. Syria’s official SANA news agency, citing an unidentified military source, said the aircraft was targeted inside Syrian airspace.

Israeli leaders have warned repeatedly against spillover from the seven-year civil war as fighting intensifies just beyond the Israeli-held section of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. The military said it’s on high alert and will respond to any breach of the 1974 disengagement agreement that ended Israel’s last war with Syria.

Fighting in the area has increased as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad press an offensive to retake one of the last remaining opposition strongholds. On Monday, Israel fired two missiles of its advanced aerial-defense system to intercept rockets fired toward Israel from Syria.

Drone Launched

Tensions along the frontier haven’t been so high since February, when Israel launched a wave of airstrikes inside Syria following what it said was the infiltration of its airspace by an Iranian drone launched from Syrian territory. Israel shot down the drone, and an Israeli warplane was shot down in the course of the aerial attacks that followed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Tuesday’s incident “a clear violation” of the 1974 disengagement agreement.

“We won’t accept any such violation, we won’t accept any infiltration or spillover into our territory, whether by land or by air,” he said on Twitter.

The incident shouldn’t be considered a direct attack on Israel, but rather was spillover from Syria’s internal fighting, said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former director-general of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry and now a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The bigger concern is Iran’s military foothold in Syria, he said.

Russia and the U.S. are trying to broker an agreement concerning Iran’s presence in Syria after the war, during which it has bolstered Assad’s forces. Israel would like to see Iran and its proxies ejected from Syria, and local media reported that Israel this week rejected a Russian proposal to keep Iranian troops and allied militias 60 miles from the Israeli-held Golan.

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