JERUSALEM—A Syrian warplane was shot down early Tuesday when it penetrated Israeli air space over the Golan Heights.
The Russian-made Sukhoi 24 was hit by a missile fired by an American-made Patriot battery. It was the first time in almost 30 years that Israel has downed a Syrian warplane.
Israeli officials said the plane was apparently intending to attack rebel forces fighting the Syrian army near the border with the Golan. However, it penetrated 800 meters into Israeli-held territory before starting to turn, according to officials. By that time, the ground-to-air missile had been fired. The plane’s pilot and navigator were seen to bail out but it was not clear if they had landed within the Syrian army lines or among the rebel forces.
An Israeli spokesman said that the plane could have been over the city of Tiberias in one minute if it had stayed on its original course and "anywhere else"—an apparent reference to Tel Aviv—in five minutes.
Syrian state television quoted a military source in Damascus as saying that the Israeli action showed that the Jewish state was working in tandem with the jihadist forces confronting the Syrian army. The downing of the plane, he said, was "in the framework of Israel’s support for the (Islamic State) and the al-Nusra Front."
Israel has in the past occasionally fired artillery at Syrian positions whose shells hit inside the Golan, even though such shellfire is almost certainly intended to hit rebel positions near the border rather than Israel itself. Israel has said that it will fire back regardless of the gunners’ intentions. Similarly, it has said it will down any plane that penetrates its airspace.
The downing of the plane came after a night of intensive American air strikes against jihadi forces in Syria, particularly positions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The planes also hit sites occupied by members of Khorasan, a newly identified terror group, which American intelligence officials say is seeking to smuggle bombs aboard American aircraft. The group is reported to have suffered a number of casualties in the strike.
Israel, for its part, sends frequent reconnaissance patrols over southern Lebanon by both manned aircraft and drones. Two weeks ago, a drone reportedly blew up an Israeli listening device in southern Lebanon that had been uncovered by the Lebanese army. Last Saturday, another Israeli drone crashed in southern Lebanon, apparently because of technical problems.