Timeline: Four Hours of Conflict Leave Iranian Drone, Israeli F-16, Syrian Air Defenses Destroyed
In the early hours of Saturday morning, Israel and a Syrian-Iranian alliance engaged in a confrontation that left an Israeli F-16, an Iranian-made drone, and numerous military targets within Syria destroyed. While downing an Israeli fighter jet was an accomplishment widely touted by Israel’s enemies, the destruction of significant Syrian air defense systems appear to leave Syria and its Iranian backers in a much weaker position against future Israeli air raids.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call, IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus provided a clear breakdown of the confrontation’s events.
An Iranian ‘stealth’ drone, modeled on the American RQ-170, took off from the T4 airbase in central Syria, located deep in the Syrian desert near Palmyra.
According to the IDF, this airbase has been taken over by the Iranian Quds Force — an elite overseas unit used by Tehran to spread its influence across the Middle East.
The Quds Force has been highly active in Syria, helping the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad to defeat rebel forces. Iran has been working to build missile factories in Syria in order to produce weapons capable of targeting Israeli cities. The Quds Force uses the T4 airbase to launch Iranian-made drones.
Before sunrise on Saturday, Iran sent a drone south towards Syria’s border with Jordan. From its launch, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) was monitoring the drone’s flight path. IAF controllers watched as the drone entered Jordanian air space, and then tried to enter Israeli air space from Jordan in an attempt to circumvent Israeli defenses.
The drone flew for a minute and a half over Israel before an IAF Apache combat helicopter shot it down at 4:25am. The IDF recovered the pieces and brought them back for analysis — providing an opportunity for Israel to study Iranian drone technology.
Next, the IAF tracked the location of the Iranian caravan where a crew was controlling the drone, hundreds of kilometers away from Israel in the central Syrian desert.
Just over an hour after the drone’s interception, at 5:34am, eight Israeli jets took off on a mission to destroy the caravan, as well as additional Iranian military targets in Syria. Flying over northern Israel, the jets fired long-range missiles, striking and destroying their targets.
Syrian forces controlled by the Assad regime then entered the confrontation, firing between 15 and 20 surface-to-air missiles at the Israeli jets. One of the Israeli F-16s was unable to defend itself against the attack and was damaged in-flight, forcing the pilot and navigator to eject before the plane crashed in northern Israel.
The pilot suffered serious injuries, while the navigator suffered light wounds. Following successful surgeries and blood transfusions, the pilot’s condition was upgraded from serious to moderate. Both are expected to recover.
At 8:45am Israel responded to the downed F-16. The IAF scrambled a second wave of fighter jets and 12 targets across Syria were hit. Syrian forces again fired on the Israeli jets, but none were hit. During the reprisal, Israel destroyed eight Syrian air defense sites — a significant portion of the Syrian regime’s air defense systems. Another four significant Iranian military targets were hit.
“We carried out a wide-scale attack on the aerial defense system: radars, missiles, batteries, and posts,” Amnon Ein Dar, head of the Training and Doctrine Division of the IAF, said in a statement.
The number of casualties suffered by Syria or Iranian Quds forces remains unknown. Iran and Syria are attempting to play down the scope of damage they sustained while celebrating the downing of the Israeli F-16 as a major military accomplishment.
The IDF is investigating the incident to determine exactly why the F-16 was unable to avoid enemy fire, leading to the crash.