Israel and Iran moved closer to confrontation in Syria as rising tensions erupted into the most serious standoff between the sides since the Syrian civil war began seven years ago.

Israel at the weekend struck 12 targets in Syria, including four Iranian targets, in a “large-scale attack” after an Iranian military drone penetrated Israeli airspace, the Israel Defence Forces said. An F-16 fighter plane crashed in northern Israel after coming under fire from Syrian anti-aircraft missiles, and the pilots were hospitalised with moderate to severe injuries.

The weekend’s confrontation comes amid Israeli warnings that it won’t let Syria become an Iranian base and will intercept weapons shipments bound for Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. Iran and allied militias have fought alongside government troops against rebels and Islamist factions in the Syrian war.

“The question is whether the Iranians will respond or lower the fire at this stage,” said Ephraim Kam, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “My feeling is that they don’t have an interest in escalation.”

Read more by Donna Abu-Nasr and Gwen Ackerman in The Australian Financial Review.

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