JERUSALEM/BEIRUT • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Israeli forces would press ahead with Syria operations despite their loss of an advanced warplane to enemy fire for the first time in 36 years.
The F-16 crashed on Saturday in northern Israel after it was likely hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile, an Israeli army spokesman said yesterday.
The fighter jet was downed after Israel struck an Iranian control base near Palmyra, inside Syria, said the spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus.
Israel said the Iranian base had been used to dispatch a drone into Israeli airspace earlier in the day.
Iran-backed forces are backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's near seven-year civil war.
Israel later launched a second and more intensive air raid, hitting what it said were 12 Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria, including Syrian air defence systems.
But Israel and Syria have both signalled that they are not seeking wider conflict, and yesterday, their frontier was calm, although Mr Netanyahu struck a defiant tone in remarks to his Cabinet broadcast by Israeli media.
"Yesterday, we landed hard blows on the forces of Iran and Syria. We made unequivocally clear to everyone that our modus operandi has not changed one bit," he said.
Iran's involvement in Syria, including the deployment of Iran-backed forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, has alarmed Israel, which has said it would counter any threat. Israel has also accused Iran of planning to build precision-guided missile factories in Lebanon.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Israel's strikes on Saturday killed at least six people from Syrian government and allied forces. The Syrian state media has yet to disclose any casualties or damage.
The F-16's two-man crew survived with injuries, and Israeli generals insisted they had inflicted much greater damage in Syria - even as Damascus claimed a strategic gain in the decades-old stand-off with its old foe to the south.
Israel said it had destroyed three Syrian anti-aircraft batteries and four targets "that are part of Iran's military establishment" in Syria during last Saturday's raids.
"This is the broadest attack on Syria's defence systems since (Operation) Peace for the Galilee," air force Brigadier-General Amnon Ein Dar told Army Radio, referring to Israel's 1982 Lebanon offensive, in which it battled Syrian forces.
In Syria, the pro-government al-Watan newspaper said the country's air defences had "destroyed the myth of Israeli air superiority in the region".
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also struck a defiant tone yesterday at a rally in Teheran marking the anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Mr Rouhani made no specific reference to Israel's air strikes in Syria, but he told the crowd: "They (US and Israel) wanted to create tension in the region... they wanted to divide Iraq, Syria... They wanted to create long-term chaos in Lebanon but... with our help, their policies failed."
Both the United States, Israel's closest ally, and Russia, which supports Mr Assad, have expressed concern over the latest clashes.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was due to begin a previously scheduled visit to the region yesterday, expecting what a State Department official said would be "tough conversations".