BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Israelis suspect Hezbollah over drone

In this Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 file photo, an Israeli army helicopter lands in an open area as soldiers search for the remains of a drone in the Negev southern Israel. (AP Photo/Yehuda Lachiani, File)

BEIRUT: Israeli media says Hezbollah was behind the drone that was intercepted in southern Israel over the weekend. The unarmed aircraft crossed from the Mediterranean Sea deep into Israel before it was shot down by Israeli fighter jets. While officials have so far refrained from blaming any party for the drone, Israeli military sources have said that the incident is under serious investigation and Hezbollah is the prime suspect.

Hezbollah officials have refrained from commenting on the incident.

Several reports in Israeli media said Sunday that the drone was intercepted only 30 kilometers from Israel’s Dimona reactor at the Negev Nuclear Research Center.

The incident marked the first time in at least six years that an allegedly hostile aircraft has penetrated Israel’s airspace, and Israeli officials said they were taking the incident seriously, raising the possibility of retaliatory action.

Although no group has claimed responsibility, suspicion quickly fell on Hezbollah and Iran. The Iranian-backed group is known to have sent drones into Israeli airspace on several previous occasions.

Tensions are running high between Iran and Israel over Tehran’s nuclear program, which the West believes is cover for the development of weapons. The Islamic Republic denies the allegations, and says its program is for peaceful purposes only. Israel has threatened to carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent Iran from acquiring such weapons.

According to Israeli army Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, Israeli ground systems detected the drone Saturday morning, which flew over the Gaza Strip but did not originate there. They alerted the air force, which scrambled fighter jets to intercept the aircraft. She said Israel was still trying to determine where the drone took off from. No one was hurt in the incident.

Leibovich said Israeli jets escorted the drone before deciding to bring it down in the northern Negev area, which is largely uninhabited.

The drone, which was downed near the Yatir Forrest close to the West Bank, had spent about 20 minutes in Israeli airspace, an Israeli military official said.

Leibovich did not give further details, but Israel media reported that the aircraft was not carrying explosives and could have been a surveillance drone. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement that Israel views “this incident of attempting to enter Israeli airspace very severely and we will consider our response later.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel “will continue to defend our borders in the sea, on the land and in the air for the security of the citizens of Israel.”

It’s not the first time that Israel has shot down a drone in its airspace, although such cases have been rare.

Hezbollah has sent a few drones over Israel over the past decade that have been detected.

In the 2006 war, the group launched an Iranian-made drone capable of carrying explosives into Israel that was shot down. Another drone crashed two years earlier in the Mediterranean.

Last week Israeli authorities indicted an Arab citizen of Israel on charges of spying for Hezbollah, accusing him of gathering intelligence on security for Israel’s president and other public officials as well as military installations. - With Agencies

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 08, 2012, on page 3.

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