Initial probe: Altitude may have made downed jet vulnerable to Syrian fire –  The open war with Iran has begun

By Anna Ahronheim – February 12, 2018 15:14 – JERUSALEM POST – According to a senior IAF officer, Israel has carried out thousands of missions over Syria in past year.An initial probe into the downing of an Israeli F-16i jet on Saturday found that the altitude at which the plane was flying made it more vulnerable than the other eight planes flying in the formation.

According to a report by Yediot Aharonot, the plane was flying at a height of 10,000 feet when the Syrian anti-aircraft missile exploded near the plane. Shrapnel penetrated the cockpit and caused serious injury to the pilot, who nonetheless initiated the evacuation procedure with his navigator almost immediately.

A direct hit on the plane, which was in Israeli airspace at the time of impact and not close to the Syrian border, would likely have caused the deaths of the two crew members.

The jet was part of a two four-plane formation that was taking part in retaliatory airstrikes following the infiltration of an advanced Iranian drone into Israeli airspace early Saturday morning. During the operation, around 20 Syrian anti-aircraft missiles were fired at the Israeli jets and one locked onto a second plane in the formation. Unlike the first jet which was hit, the second plane was able to evade the missile.

Israeli Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin visited the injured pilot at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital on Sunday. “From the moment you understood that you needed to abandon the plane you made the right decision, and saved the life of the major and of yourself,” Norkin told the pilot.In leaked transcripts of their debrief, Channel 2 news quoted the pilots as saying they had no time to report on their radio that they were bailing out of the plane.

“We were very focused on the mission. Then there was an explosion and we understood we were hit; it is a very uncomfortable feeling, the loss of control,” read the transcript.

“There is no long process and there is no time. A few seconds. The understanding [was] that we needed to quickly eject as a result of the physical damage to us and also as a result of the damage to the plane that ceased to function,” they were quoted as saying.“We were extremely lucky. The missile exploded close to the plane and the force of the explosion could have killed us. The missile exploded at a certain distance from the plane and its shrapnel did enough damage to the plane,” the transcript continued.

The pilot, who was severely injured in the crash, has since been moved from the intensive care unit to a regular ward following a marked improvement in his condition.  The navigator was released from hospital on Sunday.

Following the crash of the F-16i near Kibbutz Harduf in the lower Galilee, Israeli jets carried out the largest airstrike against Syrian air defenses in some 30 years.The jets were once again met with massive anti-aircraft fire by the Syrian regime, but no jets were hit and according to military estimates they were able to take out nearly half of Syria’s air defenses.Syria’s air defenses are largely Russian, with SA-2s, SA-5s and SA-6s, as well as more sophisticated tactical surface-to-air missiles such as the SA-17s and SA-22 systems. And while the majority of the systems have been neglected during the war, Russia has deployed the advanced mobile S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft batteries capable of engaging multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles at a distance of up to 380 km.

During an IAF operation in March to strike a Hezbollah arms convoy in Syria, regime air defense fired three surface-to-air missiles towards IAF jets. Following the incident in March Liberman warned against any further launching of missiles by the Syrian regime, threatening to destroy all Syrian air defenses. Israel rarely comments on foreign reports of military activity in Syria, but on Sunday IAF Air Division, Brig. Gen. Amnon Ein Dar admitted that the IAF has carried out thousands of missions over the war-torn country in the past year alone.