A report last Friday added context and background to recent Israeli actions in Syria. The report, by the IDF, dealt with an incident in February, when Israel shot down an Iranian drone. That drone, it turns out, was armed with explosives and was enroute to carry out a bombing attack in the Jewish state.
“After flight path analysis and an operational and intelligence-based investigation of the Iranian UAV that infiltrated Israeli airspace on 2.10.2018, the IDF concluded that the Iranian UAV was armed with explosives and was tasked to attack Israel,” the IDF said. “By intercepting the Iranian UAV, IAF combat helicopters prevented the attack Iran had hoped to carry out in Israel. The UAV was identified and tracked by Israeli defense systems until its destruction, effectively eliminating any threat the Iranian UAV posed.”
In other words, thanks to its growing presence in Syria, Iran is able to turn its rhetoric into action. Even more worrisome is the fact that the drone entered Israeli airspace in a well-populated area near Beit Shean. If the drone had been used for an attack there, it was likely that many civilians would have been killed or injured.
This announcement explained a lot, not just about Israelis counterattack to the Iranian drone entering her airspace in February, but also Israel’s attack on Syria last week. In February, there were rumors the drone was armed but they were unconfirmed.
The structure and technology of the drone were similar to an American unmanned aerial vehicle that Iran seized in 2011, including a “low signature” aimed at avoiding detection.
Israel’s retaliation for the February drone incursion was quick. Eight Israeli f-16 planes swept into Syria carrying out strikes deep inside the country, blowing up the truck that controlled the drone and the Syrian T-4 airbase that was also hit last week. T-4 is the Syrian home of Iran’s drone program. The Syrians reacted with anti-aircraft missiles and one F-16 crashed in an empty field near the town of Harduf in northern Israel after both pilots were able to parachute to safety. Although not confirmed by the IDF, the plane was likely hit by an anti-aircraft missile.
Iran has an advanced drone program, including suicide drones it distributes to proxies including Syria and Hezbollah. In 2017 Iranian allies and proxies fired drones toward U.S.-backed forces in Syria and into Israel; rhe Iranians released footage of one of their drones shadowing American forces the day before that attack. In January, Iran began mass-producing offensive drones meant to be loaded with precision bombs. Apparently, the drone sent into Israeli space was one of those offensive drones.
Israel recently issued several stern warnings about the increased Iranian involvement along its border in Syria and Lebanon. Speaking the week after the February drone attack, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned, “Last week its brazenness reached new heights.”
“We will act without hesitation to defend ourselves,” Netanyahu said. “And we will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies but against Iran itself.”
Israel’s admission, in late March, that she was behind the 2007 bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor, was a warning to Iran. Israeli Intelligence minister, Israel Katz, tweeted, “The  operation and its success made clear that Israel will never allow nuclear weaponry to be in the hands of those who threaten its existence — Syria then, and Iran today.”
As observed in last week’s column, the April 9 action had nothing to do with Syria’s use of chemical weapons and everything to do with the Iranian drone program.
During his Yom HaShoah speech a few days after the attack on T-4, Netanyahu warned, “I have a message for the leaders of Iran: Don’t test Israel’s resolve.” To the Iranian people, he said, “The regime is oppressing you and when this regime disappears off the face of the earth, then our two peoples can live together once more in coexistence.”
The February drone attack was the first time Iran attacked Israel directly instead of through a terrorist group such as Hezbollah. It was the crossing of a giant red line. With bases in Syria, Iran can now “breathe down Israel’s neck.” Israeli concerns have to go beyond a drone packed with conventional explosives. It’s not a big leap for Iran to load a drone with the chemical weapons Syria is using, or even the drone equivalent of a dirty bomb (radioactive nuclear waste material and conventional explosives).
Now we know why Israel attacked Syria’s T-4 base. Look for her to continue to attack Iran’s drone infrastructure in Syria. It’s not about making a statement, it’s about self-preservation.