Israel on Tuesday shot down a Syrian fighter jet that crossed into the Jewish state’s airspace in the Golan Heights. The incident marked one of the more severe cases of Syria’s ongoing civil war spilling across the border into Israel.
Israeli and Syrian military officials confirmed the downing of what conflicting reports identified as either a MiG–21 or a “Sukhoi,” both Russian-made aircraft.
The Israeli army added that the fighter jet was almost certainly operating against Syrian rebels in the area, and was not on a mission to attack Israeli targets. Nevertheless, Israel has been firm in its position that any breach of Israel’s sovereignty will be dealt with swiftly and severely so as to keep Syria’s civil war from crossing the border.
But keeping the war on the Syrian side of the border has become increasingly difficult after Al Qaeda-linked rebel group Al-Nusra Front seized control of the border region earlier this month.
Syrian government forces have been frantically fighting to regain the town of Quneitra and the rest of the border region, but, despite superior firepower, have failed to achieve that goal.
While both the Syrian government and the Islamists have no love for the Jewish state, the latter has far less to lose in provoking Israel militarily.
“It’s not our war, but we are preparing ourselves for the day the situation will change,” a senior IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post, adding that Israel could respond in great force “within minutes” should any of the forces active in Syria deliberately attack the Jewish state.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) that has acted as a peacekeeper along the Syria-Israel border for the past 40 years has abandoned its post.
When Al-Nusra conquered the border region earlier this month, it took captive dozens of UNDOF peacekeepers. They were later released, but the incident and the new presence of radical jihadists compelled UNDOF to withdraw to the safety of neighboring Israel.