Israel: Iran was behind drone incursion from Syria

Jerusalem (AP) — Iran appears to have been behind the launch of a drone that was shot down over Israeli airspace this week, the Israeli military said Monday.

The army announced its conclusions on Monday, a day after air force helicopters and fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the drone when it entered Israeli territory from Syria. There were no casualties in the incident, but it added to the already heightened tensions between the two arch-enemies.

The interception happened shortly after Iranian state media reported that an Iranian adviser who was wounded in an Israeli airstrike in Syria over the weekend had died of his wounds. That made him the second Iranian adviser allegedly killed by Israel in recent days.

Last week, Greece announced the arrest of two Pakistani operatives it said were planning an attack on a Jewish center in Athens. Israel has said Iran was behind the plot.

The Israeli military said Monday an initial inquiry determined the intercepted drone was Iranian. It said debris was still being collected and analyzed.

Since the start of Syria’s conflict in March 2011, Iran has been a main supporter of President Bashar Assad’s government and has sent advisers and other assistance to the Syrian leader.

Throughout the Syrian war, Israel has carried out scores of airstrikes in the neighboring country.

Most of these strikes have been aimed at Iranian targets or suspected arms shipments to Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups that have sent troops to back Assad.

Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy, citing the country’s hostile rhetoric, support for militant groups like Hezbollah and its suspected nuclear program. Iran denies Western allegations that it is pursuing a nuclear bomb.

Israel appears to have stepped up its activities in Syria recently. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-linked war monitor, says Israel has struck targets in Syria nine times this year.

Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes. But on Sunday, the Syrian state news agency SANA, citing military sources, said Israeli strikes targeted sites in the city of Homs and surrounding countryside. Syrian air defenses intercepted the missiles and shot down some of them, it said.

The observatory reported that the missiles targeted Syrian military sites and those of Iran-linked militias, including a research center.

Later on Sunday, Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, commented about Syria during a visit to soldiers in the occupied West Bank but did not directly confirm the recent airstrikes.

“We will not allow the Iranians and Hezbollah to harm us. We have not allowed it in the past, we won’t allow it now, or anytime in the future,” Gallant said. He also accused Iran of seeking to entrench its presence along Israel’s borders.

“When necessary, we will push them out of Syria to where they belong. And that is Iran,” Gallant said.