A Patriot anti-missile system deployed in a joint U.S. and Israeli military outpost in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv is silhouetted against the setting sun.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
The IDF confirmed firing a Patriot missile toward an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle approaching Israel’s Golan Heights from Syria on Sunday.
“Air defense systems as well as detection systems identified the threat in advance...before it crossed into the country,” read a statement released by the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit, adding that the military “will not allow a violation of Israel’s aerial sovereignty and will act against any attempt to harm its citizens.”
According to the IDF, the UAV was not hit and retreated from the border area following the missile launch.
The Spokesperson for the Safed Municipality – where residents had earlier reported hearing sounds of an explosion – said that the sound was the “firing by our forces toward a target in Syrian territory,” encouraging them to keep to their routine activities.
The army did not disclose any further details about the drone, such as who was operating it.
The interception comes amid a large-scale Syrian offensive in the southwestern provinces of Dara’a and Quneitra aimed at recapturing the strategic areas bordering Jordan and the Golan Heights from rebels.
A commander in the coalition supporting the regime of Bashar Assad told Reuters that the drone was engaged in the ongoing military activities in Quneitra province near the Golan Heights when it was targeted.
The fighting intensified over the weekend, with the Syrian army backed by Russian air power and Shiite militias pounding the rebel-held areas, killing at least 23 civilians and causing thousands more to flee to other opposition-held areas along the Israeli and Jordanian borders.
The border with Syria has been tense since the war erupted in 2011
. Israeli and Russian officials meet regularly to discuss the deconfliction mechanism implemented over Syria to avoid accidental clashes.
Israel has used Patriot anti-ballistic missile batteries stationed in the north of the country to intercept drones infiltrating into Israeli airspace from Syria.
In September, a Patriot missile was fired, from a battery stationed near the northern city of Safed, at an Iranian-built UAV that breached the “Bravo line” marking the Syrian demilitarized zone.
The previous year, a Patriot missile intercepted a UAV
which was believed to have been gathering intelligence for the Syrian regime. The system was also used in July 2016, when two Patriot missiles were fired at a suspicious drone that crossed into Israeli airspace from Syria. Both missed their targets and the unmanned aircraft returned to Syria.
In February, an armed Iranian drone, sent to carry out a sabotage attack from the T-4 airbase deep in the Syrian province of Homs, was downed by an Apache attack helicopter after it infiltrated into northern Israel. The retaliatory strikes by Israel and the consequent launching of over 20 missiles toward the Israeli jets from Syrian SA-5 and SA-17 air-defense batteries resulted in the first crash of an Israeli jet in 30 years. Both pilots survived.
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced their concern about the entrenchment of Iran and its proxies, such as Hezbollah, in Syria and has stepped up strikes against Iranian military targets in the war-torn country, as well as against Hezbollah weapons convoys in Syrian territory.
Israel’s air defenses also include the Iron Dome, designed to shoot down short-range rockets; the Arrow system which intercepts ballistic missiles outside of the Earth’s atmosphere; and the David’s Sling missile-defense system which is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets and cruise missiles fired from ranges of between 40 km. to 300 km.Reuters contributed to this report.