The Israeli military said Tuesday morning that it had shot down a Syrian fighter jet that had “infiltrated into Israeli airspace,” the first such incident in at least a quarter of a century.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said the Patriot air-defense system had intercepted a Russian-made Sukhoi warplane over the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights around 9:15 a.m. Brig. Gen. Ram Shmueli, a former head of intelligence in the Israeli Air Force now serving in the reserves, said that the pilots of the jet, which he identified as an Su-24, had ejected safely in Syrian territory and that the remains of the plane had fallen into the sea.
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“We cannot tolerate any penetration of the Israeli airspace, so we had to shut him down even though we understand that his intention was not to attack us,” General Shmueli told reporters in a conference call, saying the aircraft had penetrated half a mile into Israeli territory. “We are not involved in the war in Syria, and we don’t have any intention to be involved. We have to keep our borders safe on one side but we have to make sure we are not part of this war.”
Israel has responded on several occasions in the last three years to what it has described as errant fire from the Syrian civil war that landed in the Golan Heights. In August, Israel shot down a drone from Syria.
Amos Harel, the military correspondent for the Israeli daily Haaretz, said Israel had not intercepted a piloted Syrian aircraft since 1989, and General Shmueli put the date at 1985.
Israel and Syria remain technically at war though the armistice line established in 1973 had been quiet for four decades until the Syrian civil war moved toward it. This summer has seen intense fighting on the Syrian side of the cease-fire line, with rebels taking control of territory near Quneitra, where they recently captured dozens of United Nations troops that patrol the area.
The Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, released 45 Fijian members of the United Nations peacekeeping force on Sept. 11 after holding them for two weeks. They were unharmed. Nusra forces also surrounded two groups of Filipino members of the force, exchanging fire with one of them, before they escaped safely into an Israeli-controlled zone.