Tel Aviv Diary: Is This the Start of an Israeli-Iran War?

If you were an Israeli living in Northern Israel, you were awakened yesterday morning by sirens and sounds of explosions.

If you were in the rest of the country, you learned of attacks as you woke up, to news reports and notifications on your phones of missile warning in the North.

This morning Israeli intelligence spotted an Iranian drone taking off from an Iranian base T-4, near Tadmor Syria. Israel tracked the drone as it approached Israel’s border. Waiting at the border was a group of Israeli Apache attack helicopters that swiftly downed the drone.

The Iranian action was not totally unexpected and the Israeli Air Force was ready with a quick response — a response that included attacking the Iranian base, as well as destroying the command and control vehicle that sent the drone.

GettyImages-916435924 Israeli solders on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights near the border with Syria, February 10, 2018. Syrian air defenses repelled an Israeli raid on a military base in the centre of the country, hitting more than one warplane, state media said. The report came after the Israeli military said one of its fighter jets had crashed during strikes against 'Iranian targets' in Syria after intercepting a drone. JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty

According to some Israeli sources, the attacks took place using stand-off advanced weaponry that did not require Israeli planes having to actually enter Syria.

The Syrians fired an unprecedented number of anti-aircraft missiles at the Israeli aircraft. One of the Israeli planes, an F-16i flying over Northern Israel, was struck by a missile. It tried to reach the Israeli air base in the Galilee, but the crew realized they would not make it and ejected.

The plane crashed into an empty field. The pilot was seriously injured, seemingly from the missile attack on the plane, and the navigator was only slightly injured. It was the first Israeli fighter aircraft that has been shot down since 1982.

Israel responded with a much larger strike in Syria, attacking 12 targets including 4 Iranian targets, and at least four Syrian missile emplacements destroying all of the sites that fired on the Israeli planes. According to Israeli sources, it was the largest and most successful attack on the missile system in Syria since the Lebanon War of 1982.

Israelis are now asking themselves whether we have been living in a period of false peace? Have things fundamentally changed? The answer seems to be yes.

The major change is the fact that the Iranians directly sent a drone into Israel. It is not clear if the drone was on an attack mission, or merely an intelligence mission — but the nature of the mission is not really relevant. The Iranians have taken a strategic decision to confront Israel directly, and that constitutes a change.

Israel has made it clear that it will not allow the Iranians to establish advanced bases in Syria and the Iranians are determined to establish those bases. Additional confrontations can be expected.

The downing of an Israeli F-16i came as a surprise. While the Israeli Air Force never believed that its planes were untouchable, the fact that the plane was hit, while over Israel, clearly came as a surprise. Clearly some of the built-in advance defensive systems of the F-16 failed to work.

In reality, one should not be shocked, as no systems work 100 percent of the time. Still, the Syrians are celebrating the downing of the first Israeli planes in decades.

It should be noted that according to Israeli sources, the Iranian drone was one with an advanced semi-stealth design, based on the technology of the American RQ-170 drone, captured by the Iranians in 2011. The fact that this drone has been recovered mostly intact, should provide important intelligence about the Iranian abilities.

An additional lesson learned today was the complete absence of the United States. Not since the 1950s has America been such an irrelevant actor in events in this part of the Middle East.

Yesterday morning, the President of the United States was busy with irrelevant tweets. In an unusual move the Department of Defense was the department issuing a statement- defending Israel's right to defend itself.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.