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Israel strikes Syria after downing Iranian drone

Tensions are high in the Middle East as Iran and Israel exchange fire over Syrian skies. It started Friday night, when Israel shot down an Iranian drone that entered the Israeli airspace from a Syria. Then Syria shot down an Israeli F-16 attacking what Israel said was an Iranian air base there. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jane Ferguson joins Hari Sreenivasan from Beirut for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Joining me now from Beirut is NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jane Ferguson. Jane, let's just clarify there's been some confusion about the timeline of events. What happened when?

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    At the minute we're looking at a number of events today. Of course, the first thing that we heard was that this Israeli fighter jet, an F-16 had been downed. But the Israelis have now said that actually the initial incident was when, what they're calling an 'Iranian drone' entered Israeli airspace. It was shot down immediately by the Israelis. They then launched attacks inside Syria to take down what they say are Iranian drone facilities and it was then that one of the Israeli fighter jets was shot down. We know that the two pilots ejected – one of them is supposed to be in decent condition and the other is actually critically ill at this point.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. So tell us how is this playing out in the region when people are actually exchanging fire? I know you're in Beirut but what is the media coverage of it? Are tensions higher?

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    Tensions are high because everybody is aware of the fact that this is a hugely complicated and a region wide conflict going on inside Syria at the moment. What the Israelis are really trying to prevent is to make sure that Hezbollah or the Iranian backed militia here in Lebanon, don't get completely uninterrupted supply lines basically from Beirut all the way across to Iran. They want to make sure also the Iranians aren't building a permanent military presence inside Syria. So they want to make sure that those military bases of the Iranian forces are on in Syria already aren't going to stay and are certainly not going to creep close to their borders. So from the Israeli perspective to have Iranian drones coming into their territory certainly increases the the tensions around this. And the Israelis have said that that is something that they will not accept.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And from the Syrian government's perspective they're saying, you are attacking locations inside our borders?

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    Indeed. The war in Syria has been for years but even more so, this week we have seen that this is a hugely multifaceted war. Essentially several wars going on at once. So the Syrian government is saying, well, Israeli jets were inside our territory but it's also got a huge amount of international involvement in this war. You've got Iranians there fighting on the side of the Syrians. You've also got American troops in with the Syrian rebels. You've also now got Turkish troops inside Syria. So the situation is not only one whereby it's extremely complicated but it's also very dangerous because all of these multifaceted layers and various militaries that are present there are continually bumping up against one another and increasingly so as ISIS's territory has shrunk down to barely any territory. That territory is what they are now fighting over.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Does the stress that's happening inside the Israeli government right now and the tension that Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing inside his own government – does that play into any of those?

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    It certainly would put him under pressure. There is pressure to make sure that there isn't seem to be any building Iranian presence on Israel's borders. We know that whenever that fighter jet was shot down today that the sirens sounded across the Golan Heights and in northern Israel. It certainly adds a lot of tension inside Israel where Israelis are extremely concerned about the Iranian presence that could be building up close to their borders. That puts him under pressure but we have always had been hearing now for quite some time fiery rhetoric about what Israel will and will not accept by its leadership. But of course, in terms of their response, they have to come out very sharply and show that they are protecting their territorial integrity and that's all we saw today after the fighter jet, which was shot down. The Israeli Defense Forces have said that they then launched 12 more strikes deep inside Syria and they say that several of those were against Iranian drone facilities.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jane Ferguson joining us via Skype from Beirut. Thanks so much.

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