The leader of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah on Thursday claimed responsibility for launching a drone aircraft that was shot down over Israel earlier this week, saying the UAV had been assembled by Hezbollah men using parts provided by Iran. The rare admission by Hassan Nasrallah raises regional tensions at a sensitive time when the group’s backers, Syria and Iran, are under pressure.
Nasrallah said the drone sent Saturday was named the Ayoub, honoring both an Islamic prophet (of patience) and a “martyr” by the name of Hussein Ayoub.
“Today we are uncovering a small part of our capabilities, and we shall keep many more hidden,” Nasrallah said in a televised address. “It is our natural right to send other reconnaissance flights inside occupied Palestine … This is not the first time and will not be the last. We can reach any place we want” inside Israel, he said.
Several hours earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed a finger at Hezbollah. “We’re determined to defend our land, air, and maritime borders, just as when we foiled Hezbollah’s attempt to send a UAV into Israel,” Netanyahu said during a tour of the border with Egypt.
On Tuesday, Israeli Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad said the UAV’s incursion into Israeli airspace was a failed mission. Speaking to Israel Radio, Gilad, a top aide to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, said that the drone had failed to gather any intelligence or damage Israel’s air defense superiority.
The UAV was identified from a distance, and the IAF waited until it was flying over open space before it neutralized it, he added.
The UAV was shot down over the Yatir Forest in the northern Negev after it entered Israel from the skies over Gaza. Officials believe it was launched from Lebanon and flew south over the Mediterranean before turning inland over Gaza.
On Sunday, a former commander of Israel’s drone unit said that the foreign UAV couldn’t have filmed anything that wasn’t already available on Google Earth, despite claims to the contrary by Iran.
Gabe Fisher and AP contributed to this report.