The peaceful and quiet skies that so often accompany Shabbat in the Holy Land were shattered by the infiltration of enemy aircraft into Israeli territory.
The aircraft, an Iranian drone that was launched from a Syrian base located near the ancient city of Palmyra in the Homs desert, approached Israel in the wee hours of the morning. It successfully entered Israeli airspace and flew for over a minute before it was intercepted near the Sea of Galilee by the Israeli Air Force (IAF).
The incident rattled the communities in the northern region as warning sirens sounded around the time locals were in synagogue reciting Shabbat prayers.
“At about 8:45 this morning, as our sheliach tzibur (leader in prayer) was reciting the Shema (a verse, Deuteronomy 6:4 declaring the oneness of God), air raid sirens went off,” Douglas Altabef, a resident of Rosh Pina, told Breaking Israel News.
Rosh Pina, located in the Galilee region, is very close to Israel’s northern border as well as the Golan Heights region to the east.
“In our eight plus years here in Rosh Pina, this is the first time I have heard these sirens except during commemorations calling for a moment of silence.”
Douglas and everyone else in his synagogue immediately headed towards the underground bunker, but the interruption in their prayer service was very brief.
“Before anyone actually went into the shelter, the sirens stopped, and after a brief pause, we returned to the service.”
The residents in the rest of Israel were by no means unaffected by the infiltration of enemy aircraft in the north of the country. Although Shabbat observers avoid using all forms of electronic communication on Shabbat, word of escalation in the north eventually spread to communities all around Israel.
“All that we overheard was that a plane got shot down, but we were essentially in the dark as we couldn’t check the media,” said Rabbi Boaz Mori, Rosh Yeshiva (head of a male Jewish seminary) of Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Beit Shemesh, to Breaking Israel News.
“At the moment, all we could do was pray for the safety of our pilots and the safety of Israel.”
Rabbi Mori’s yeshiva also runs a program that provides a spiritual “home base” for students who serve in the Israeli military, called Lev Lachayal (“Heart of the Soldier”). Every Shabbat, the yeshiva recites a special prayer for the welfare of students and alumni who serve in the army, but this Shabbat was of course a bit different than the usual. Specific verses from Psalms were recited by many in the community in light of the escalation in the north.
“In general, we don’t recite Tehillim (Psalms) to beseech God on Shabbat,” Rabbi Mori noted. “There are exceptions however, if there is very serious situation and if the magnitude of the situation is such that it is necessary to recite such verses to God. This is certainly the case here.”
The IDF responded to the incident on Saturday morning by also striking a dozen Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria.
“Twelve targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets that are part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria were attacked,” the IDF stated.
One of the targets that was successfully destroyed was the drone’s launch site, the Tiyas Military Airbase near Palmyra, which the the IDF said it hit in “a complicated surgical strike.” A facility housing the unmanned aircraft’s (UAV) Iranian operators was also reportedly struck.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said that during the operation, 15-20 Syrian anti-aircraft missiles were fired towards the Israeli warplanes.
“Syrians and Iranians are playing with fire,” he said. “We are willing to extract a heavy price on anyone who attacks us.” Conricus referred to the attacks on Iranian targets as “quite significant” but stressed that Israel is “not interested in escalating the situation.”
An Israeli F-16 crashed and landed near Kibbutz Harduf in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. Both pilots successfully ejected. One of the pilots was evacuated to a hospital in serious condition, and the second pilot was lightly wounded.
— החדשות (@NewsChannelIL) February 10, 2018
IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said that Israel holds Iran directly responsible for the incident.
“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory,” he said.“Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end.”
IAF Air Staff Commander Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar said to the media on Saturday that the IAF strike was “the biggest and most significant attack the air force has conducted against Syrian air defenses since Operation Peace for the Galilee” in 1982 during the First Lebanon War.
According to Syrian reports, Israeli aircraft bombed a military scientific research facility outside Damascus on Wednesday, which is suspected of being used to produce chemical weapons for the Syrian regime and advanced missile technology for Iran and the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah.