The Israeli military downed a suspected Syrian military drone Friday as it reportedly flew over the occupied Golan Heights in southwestern Syria, just one day after the government reclaimed a city that helped spark the country’s devastating seven-year civil war.
For the second time in three days, the Israeli military announced it had fired a U.S.-supplied Patriot missile at an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) allegedly belonging to the Syrian military and flying over the tense, disputed border between the longtime foes. Israel seized Syria’s Golan Heights without international recognition in a 1967 war and retained it after a second conflict ended in a 1974 truce, which left the countries at an indefinite standoff that has witnessed a resurgence in violence in recent months.
“A short while ago, the Patriot aerial defense system launched a missile towards a Syrian UAV flying over the demilitarized zone. The UAV was most likely intercepted,” an Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson wrote on Twitter.
“The IDF will continue to operate against attempts to violate the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement and threats to Israeli sovereignty or civilians,” a follow-up tweet read.
The Israeli military released a similar statement on Wednesday and shared a video of what appeared to be a Patriot missile destroying a drone flying over northern Israel. Hours later, the Israeli military said it “targeted three military posts in Syria in response to the infiltration of the Syrian UAV into Israel that was intercepted by the IDF earlier today,” along with another video purported to show one of the strikes. Israel has previously shot down drones it says were built by Iran, sometimes leading to further escalations.
As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad overcomes one of the last bastions of a 2011 uprising backed by the West, Turkey and Gulf Arab states, neighboring Israel has increasingly warned against perceived violations of the 1974 nonaggression pact between the two warring governments under the auspices of the United Nations. Israel has maintained ties with Assad’s ally Russia, but has opposed the presence of Iran, his other top partner.
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Iran and Israel have long exchanged existential threats against one another. Israel says its national security is threatened by Iran’s support for various militias, such as Lebanon’s Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement, battling rebels and jihadis on behalf of Assad in Syria.
Israel has accelerated a mostly unspoken campaign of airstrikes across targets it associates with Iran in Syria. In May, it conducted its largest wave of airstrikes against Syria since their 1973 war. Israel said Iranian forces had launched rockets at the Golan Heights. The alleged Iranian rockets came after Israel attacked military positions near Damascus.
While Israel has warned Syria against its relationship with Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he “had no problem with the Assad regime” as long as the Syrian leader held up his end of the 1974 agreement. Israel has previously suggested it would not interfere with the Syrian military’s latest campaign to retake the southwest, which on Thursday saw a major victory that brought the Syrian government closer to restoring control of the country’s de facto border with Israel for the first time in years.
The Syrian Ministry of Defense announced Thursday the “raising of the flag of the Syrian Arab Republic in the public area in front of the post office in Daraa al-Balad,” a district of the southwestern province of Daraa. The 2011 Daraa protests and the Syrian government’s crackdown were widely considered to have helped spark the armed rebellion that had once seen opposition fighters in control of most of the country.
As various rebel alliances fractured and jihadi forces such as the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) took over, however, the U.S. began to shift its priorities in the conflict and Russia intervened in support of Assad and his Iranian ally. The Syrian government has in the years since managed to secure most of the country, with about a quarter remaining in the hands of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a largely Kurdish coalition that has also fought against Syrian rebel groups.