Syrian Regime fighter jet.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF shot down a Syrian warplane that invaded Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights on Tuesday.
At 8:57 a.m., the Israel Air Force detected a Sukhoi-24 Syrian fighter jet crossing into Israel's air space. The jet was 800 meters into Israeli air space when the IAF took the decision to shoot it down, a senior IAF official said.
"This decision is in line with our policy of intercepting all intrusions into our air space," he said.
A minute and 20 seconds after the decision was taken, the dual seat Sukhoi-24 was struck by a Patriot surface-to-air missile, and the pilot and navigator managed to parachute out of the aircraft.
When the missile was fired, the plane was still flying into Israel, but when it struck, the jet had turned around and was flying back into Syria. The air crew members parachuted into Syrian territory. The aircraft was flying at between 10,000 to 14,000 feet, the source said.
"This jet could have reached the center of the country within a short time. In under a minute, it would have been over Lake Kinneret, and within five minutes, it could have gotten to any place," the air force officer said.
The jet took off from a Sukhoi air base in Saikal, eastern Syria, and likely sought to bomb Syrian rebel targets in Quneitra.
"We don't have any interest in supporting the rebels. This is a border; any aircraft that crosses it will be shot down," the official said. "Just as an intruder on the surface will be intercepted."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that the Syrian warplane had "approached Israeli territory in the Golan Heights in a threatening manner, and even crossed the border."
He said that Israel "has made it clear in the past, and is reiterating now: "We will not allow anyone, neither state nor terror organization to threaten our security and to violate our sovereignty."
Ya'alon vowed to "respond aggressively to any attempt of this kind, whether its intentional or an accident." Syria confirmed that Israel had shot down one of its warplanes, describing the incident as an "act of aggression."
Syrian state TV quoted a military source saying the downing of the plane, which coincided with US-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."
Quneitra, on the Syrian Golan, has been a hotbed of the Syrian conflict in recent weeks as fierce battles have raged just over the Israeli border between Assad's Syrian Army forces and al-Qaida linked al-Nusra Front rebels.
The IDF previously shot down a Syrian army drone that intruded Israeli airspace in August. The IDF Spokesman's Office said at the time that the drone had been launched from the Quneitra region in Syria, adjacent to the Israeli border.
Army sources said the drone likely belonged to the military of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and strayed into Israeli airspace by accident.
On Monday night US fighter jets began pounding Islamic State and Nusra Front targets throughout Syria, beginning the strafings on Monday night.
Reuters contributed to this report.