ANALYSIS: The incursion by a Syrian fighter jet into Israeli territory was inadvertent and likely stemmed from a navigational error • Jet's successful downing reminded the players in the region that Israel is well-defended so taking such risks is foolish.
Recent events show that both Israel and Syria are operating solely according to their own interests. The Syrian army is busy taking over the country's southwest, on the Syrian Golan Heights, and as far as it is concerned the end justifies the means. Israel, for its part, enforces its predetermined red lines, chief among them that it will not tolerate any attempt to undermine its sovereignty.
As a rule, Israel and Syria refrain from provocations, as neither has any interest in a clash. Skirmishes the likes of which we saw Tuesday are rare and usually involve errant Syrian fire that hits the Israeli side of the border over the fighting near the shared border.
Tuesday's incident fits into that category. The Syrian pilot had no intention of breaching Israeli airspace and the incident most likely stemmed from a navigational error made during a strike on rebel pockets near the border. Israel, which has reiterated in the past that there are no "small violations of sovereignty," did what it always does when a threat presents itself – it engaged and eliminated it.
Israel's policy is not meant solely to defend the public and the state's territorial integrity, but also to send a clear message to regional players that are far more sophisticated that the battered Syrian Air Force, such as Iran, which might be tempted to exploited any holes in Israel's defenses to carry out a terrorist attack; or Russia – an ally that nonetheless may be tempted to send drones into the Golan Heights on reconnaissance missions. The decision to shoot down the Syrian fighter jet was part of the standing orders of the Air Defense Command. The successful Patriot interceptor launch was also a minor consolation for the failed launch of the David's Sling interceptor on Sunday, but mostly, it was a think hint to regional players not to do anything foolish as Israel is well-defended.
The incident also served Israel's interest from another aspect: Russian Chief of Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov visited Israel this week (for the first time). One of the issued Israeli defense officials discussed with him was the Iranian presence in Syria.
Israel demands all Iranian forced in Syria be removed. Russia has been trying to convince Israel to agree to their presence 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the border, a notion Israel has rejected, saying such distance was trivial.
This assumption proved correct on Tuesday. The jet that breached Israeli airspace may have been Syrian and not Iranian, but the incident demonstrated how volatile the sector could be if players that are less restrained than Israel and Syria were allowed to operate in it.
Things on the Israel-Syria border will continue to be volatile until the Syria army completes its takeover of the area, so there is potential for future skirmishes.
Both nations share the desire to contain events and avoid an escalation. Israel is wise to maintain close coordination with Russia and the U.N. peacekeeping force in the Golan buffer zone on these issues.
An image purporting to feature burning debris from a Syrian fighter jet that was downed by Israeli missiles Tuesday