Israel’s air force shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle that entered the nation's airspace over the Syrian border Sunday, Israeli military officials said.
According to an army statement, the drone crossed the border near Quneitra and was destroyed by a Patriot surface-to-air missile.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon praised the “vigilance and professionalism” of air-defense systems. "Recent weeks have proven we have little patience for attempted attacks on us. Anyone trying to test us will meet with a firm response," Yaalon told Israeli media.
The military said that despite “sensitivity to recent occurrences in the proximity of the border,” it would respond to any breach of Israeli sovereignty. “We will continue to act to maintain safety and security” of Israeli civilians, said army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.
It was not immediately clear whether the airborne craft was intended to penetrate Israel or was related to fighting in the Golan Heights, where forces of the Syrian regime and numerous rebel groups are battling.
Rebel forces, including groups affiliated with Islamist extremists, wrested control of the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria from forces loyal to Bashar Assad’s regime last week. After being trapped as their United Nations posts were attacked, 75 peacekeepers from the Philippines were extricated at the end of an hours-long gun battle, with aid from Irish forces.
However, 44 Fijian soldiers serving as U.N. peacekeepers who were taken by Nusra fighters on Thursday continued to be held at an unknown location.
Earlier Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that he hoped the calm achieved in Israel’s south would continue. However, he added Israel was “ready for any scenario both in this sector and others, including of course the Golan Heights.”
In a radio interview, Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad said the situation in Syria doesn’t pose an immediate danger to Israel, and that the country was prepared for it. However, if the Syrian civil war gives way to militant organizations that seize its space and resources, Israel would be facing a “central challenge,” he said.
Still, he insisted that Syrian factions, including the Nusra Front in the Golan, “know the power of the IDF,” the acronym of the Israel Defense Forces.
Gilad added that recent developments have shown the world the dangers posed by Islamist militants.
“Beheadings have shocked the West and it is now paying attention,” he said.
Sobelman is a special correspondent