(JTA) — The Israeli army said an Iranian drone that infiltrated into Israeli airspace in February, leading to an Israeli retaliatory raid, was on an attack mission — an assessment that is sure to heighten regional tensions.
“After flight path analysis & an operational & intelligence-based investigation of the Iranian UAV that infiltrated Israeli airspace on 2.10.2018, the IDF concluded that the Iranian UAV was armed with explosives & was tasked to attack Israel,” the Israeli Defense Forces spokesman said Friday on Twitter.
“By intercepting the Iranian UAV, IAF combat helicopters prevented the attack Iran had hoped to carry out in Israel. The UAV was identified & tracked by Israeli defense systems until its destruction, effectively eliminating any threat the Iranian UAV posed.”
A deliberate attack on Israeli soil would be an act of war, and the army’s assessment is likely to sharpen tensions just a week after another raid, reportedly by Israel, killed Iranian personnel in Syria.
After the drone infiltration in February, Israeli combat aircraft took out the drone launcher in Syria, Iranian-allied Syria downed an Israeli plane and Israel bombed Syrian bases. The Israeli crew on the plane crew ejected into Israel-held territory.
On Monday, an airstrike hit an air base in Syria, killing 14 people, including Iranians. Russia, which maintains a presence in Syria, blamed Israel for the raid, but Israel has not acknowledged its involvement. The raid came after a chemical weapon attack hit an area populated with civilians. Western powers blamed Syria for the attack.
Russia, Iran and Iran’s Lebanese ally, the Hezbollah militia, have been propping up the Assad regime in Syria during the seven-year civil war in that country. As the war winds down, with that alliance seemingly on the winning side, Israel has said it cannot tolerate a permanent Iranian presence in the country.
Israeli warnings that it could strike Iranian targets in Syria have been spurred in part by President Donald Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. forces from the country. An American absence from Syria is likely to fuel Israel’s determination to use every means at its disposal to drive out Iran.