EIRUT: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah confirmed Thursday that the Lebanese resistance group was behind an Iranian-made drone that Israel shot down over the weekend and warned that the operation would not be the party’s last.
Nasrallah also denied his group was sending fighters to Syria to fight alongside President Bashar Assad, adding that Hezbollah would not hide its involvement if it decided to enter the battle.
“This [speech] is to announce that the Islamic resistance was responsible for the mission and this is the first time in the history of resistance movements that [a party] has demonstrated such aerial capability,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Al-Manar.
Israel said Saturday it shot down an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle that entered its airspace. Hours before Nasrallah’s speech Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that Hezbollah was behind the drone operation and that the Jewish state would “defend its borders.”
Nasrallah said the drone, which “was manufactured in Iran but assembled by the resistance group,” was launched from Lebanon and violated Israeli space in which it conducted reconnaissance of “sensitive and important locations” before being shot down.
Nasrallah said the suspect Dimona nuclear facility in the Negev Desert was one of the sites that the drone, named “Ayyoub” in honor of a Hezbollah martyr (Hussein Ayyoub) who specialized in reconnaissance, flew over.
During a talk show following Nasrallah’s speech, Al-Manar TV broadcast animated footage detailing the drone’s flight path.
According to the footage, “Ayyoub” was launched from Lebanon and flew south over the Mediterranean Sea, avoiding detection by Israeli coastal radar before it reached the Gaza Strip.
From the Hamas-controlled territory, the drone proceeded to the Negev Desert before it was shot down by the Israeli air force. The aircraft traversed a total of 300 kilometers, the narrator of the program said.
The drone had a potential range of 1,000 kilometers and was in the air for approximately three hours. The UAV lacked a payload of armaments, but could be fitted with bombs.
According to Israeli officials, the drone was shot down Saturday over a forest near the occupied West Bank after it penetrated the Jewish state’s airspace by some 55 kilometers.
Describing the drone flight over Israel as the party’s “natural right,” Nasrallah said Hezbollah would send other UAVs at the time of its choosing.
“It is our natural right to dispatch reconnaissance planes to occupied Palestine [Israel] whenever we want. This was not the first time and it will not be the last,” he said, noting that the Jewish state had violated Lebanese airspace 20,864 times since the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.
The Israeli military has on one other occasion shot down a UAV belonging to the Lebanese group. In July 2006, a Hezbollah drone was downed by the Jewish state over its territorial waters. A year earlier, Hezbollah succeeded in flying a drone over parts of northern Israel.
The Hezbollah chief said that the weekend operation vividly demonstrated Hezbollah’s stealth tactics.
“[The operation] reveals that we are able to conceal our capabilities and unveil them at the right time in order to send certain messages at the right moment,” Nasrallah said.
“This mission also proves that the primary team in Hezbollah is never preoccupied from Lebanon’s main enemy [Israel] regardless of regional developments and events,” he added, urging Lebanese to feel “proud of such an accomplishment.”
Moving to Syria, the Hezbollah leader denied reports that members of his group were fighting alongside Assad forces and said one of its members had been killed in Syria but not in combat.
“Until this moment, we have not fought in Syria and [Assad’s] regime has not asked us to do so,” he said.
Nasrallah scoffed at reports in the media saying Hezbollah fighters were taking part in the unrest in Lebanon’s neighbor, describing them as “inaccurate” and stemming from intentional fabrication by the Syrian opposition.
“Right from the start the Syrian opposition has been telling the media that Hezbollah sent 3,000 fighters to Syria which we have denied and said is a lie and untrue,” he said.
Last week, Al-Arabiya television released what it claimed were leaked communiqués between Syrian intelligence and the state’s leadership. In the documents, references were made to Hezbollah and its alleged activities with the Syrian security apparatus.
Other reports earlier this month claimed a Hezbollah commander was killed in the Syrian border town of Qusayr. Hezbollah says Ali Hussein Nassif, who was buried in his hometown in the Bekaa last week, was killed while performing his “Jihadist duty.” Referring to Nassif’s case, Nasrallah said the Hezbollah commander had been killed in a Syrian border area inhabited by Lebanese that was frequently the target of bombardment by Syrian rebels.
“Abu Abbas is a commander of the group’s infantry unit in the Bekaa ... he is then responsible for the Hezbollah members in that area and because these border towns continue until this day to be attacked [by Syrian rebels], martyrs have fallen and Abu Abbas was one of them,” he said.
Nasrallah said the Syrian town, which he did not identify, was among 23 others with mainly Lebanese populations that had armed themselves to fend off attacks by the Free Syrian Army.
However, Nasrallah was quick to note that residents were acting alone and without any involvement from Hezbollah.
“The Lebanese in these border villages inside Syrian territory are fighting all by themselves and no one is fighting on their behalf,” he said.
During his televised speech, Nasrallah also warned the FSA, which said Tuesday it had detained 13 Hezbollah members and threatened to take the fight to Beirut’s southern suburbs unless the Lebanese group ended its support for Assad.
“Nobody should threaten us, intimidate or test us,” Nasrallah said.
The Hezbollah chief reiterated his support to the Syrian regime and said it did not need assistance: “The regime does not need us or anyone else to fight alongside it ... We have not taken such a decision and it is nonexistent up to now,” adding that the group would not hide its involvement once it decides to do so.