Drone down: Syrian-Israeli tensions escalate in flash-point Golan Heights

Drone down: Syrian-Israeli tensions escalate in flash-point Golan Heights
Since Friday Israel and Syria have engaged in a number of tit-for-tat cross-border attacks with accompanying rhetoric from both sides threatening further retribution
2 min read
21 March, 2017
An Israeli UAV flies in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, January 2015 [Archive/AFP]

An Israeli military drone was shot down in Syria on Monday.

Early reports from Lebanese and Syrian media claimed that the unmanned Sky Rider (Rochev Shamayim in Hebrew) was downed by pro-Assad forces. This was consequently confirmed by the Israeli military.

According to reports on Monday the Sky Rider drone was downed near Quneitra, in the Syrian Golan Heights, bordering Israel. According to The Times of Israel Israeli military officials said that there were no immediate concerns that classified information could be retrieved from the device.

Lebanese Shia paramilitary group Hizballah posted images of the damaged drone on its social media pages.

The incident comes amid a period of escalating tensions between Israel and Syria following a series of tit-for-tat attacks late last week.

On Friday, an attack targeting a Hizballah weapons' convoy, travelling near Palmyra, led to the Syrian regime firing on an Israeli aircraft.

An additional Israeli drone strike on Sunday in Quneitra resulted in the death of a pro-Assad militia member, according to reports in Syrian and Israeli media.

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In the aftermath of Friday's events Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman threatened to destroy Syrian air defence systems "without the slightest hesitation" if Israel's aircraft were targeted again.

For its part the Syrian regime has defended its actions as an "appropriate" response "in line with Israel's operation".

Israel is concerned that Hizballah - and its Iranian backers -are attempting to establish a base in the Golan Heights to attack Israeli territory.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is said to have asked Russia - one of the Syrian regime's main backers - to ensure Iran does not gain a foothold in the area, during a recent visit to Moscow. 

Israel has previously conducted attacks on the Golan Heights targeting Hizballah and Assad-affiliated groups over the course of Syria's Civil War. 

These include a January 2015 airstrike that reportedly killed six Hezbollah members and an Iranian general. 

Lebanese militants were killed in that attack included Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of former high-ranking Hizballah officer Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a Damascus car bomb in February 2008. Israeli involvement is widely suspected in the latter attack. 

Control of the Golan Heights is split between Israel and Syria, while rebels and regime fighters have fought battles close to the line of division. Israel illegally annexed part of the strategically important Golan in the 1967 war and has occupied it since, despite international condemnation.

Translation: The Syrian Army's Air Defence Force downed a Zionist ["Israeli"] drone after violating Syrian airspace in the Quneitra countryside