The IDF shot down a foreign drone that had penetrated deep into Israeli airspace on Saturday afternoon, flying for half an hour before it was intercepted.
After an initial investigation, military officials said the unmanned aerial vehicle, which was taken down north of Beersheba, did not come from the Gaza Strip, leading the army to consider the possibility that it originated in Lebanon. Hezbollah has flown drones into Israeli airspace a few times in the past, though not for several years.
IDF Spokesperson Yoav Mordechai said that the Israeli Air Force was able to identify the unmanned aerial vehicle while it was flying over the Mediterranean, and that the IAF stayed close to the drone throughout its flight over Israel until the decision was made to shoot it down in the northern Negev desert.
Nobody was hurt in the incident.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said Israeli systems on the ground alerted the air force to the drone Saturday morning. She said it flew over the Gaza Strip but did not originate from the Palestinian territory, adding that Israel didn’t know the drone’s starting point and an investigation was under way.
Leibovich did not give more details, but Israel media reported that it might have been an intelligence gathering drone that was not carrying explosives.
Leibovich said the operation was successful and the military was in control throughout.
“We had monitoring contact from the ground and from the air. We alerted jet planes that escorted the unmanned aerial vehicle and due to some operational considerations we decided to intercept the unmanned aerial vehicle in the northern Negev area, which has no population, Leibovich said.
Leibovich would not elaborate how the unmanned vehicle was brought down. She said troops were searching for debris from the drone.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the IDF for its successful interception of the UAV. “We will continue to protect our land, sea and air borders on behalf of the citizens of Israel,” he said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, commented on the gravity of the incident, saying that Israel’s leaders “view this incident of attempting to enter Israeli airspace very severely and we will consider our response later.”
Earlier unconfirmed Palestinian reports had stated that the drone came from the Gaza Strip. The IDF quickly ruled this out.
The launch of a drone from Gaza would have been an unprecedented intrusion into Israel from the Hamas-controlled Strip. Hamas and other terrorist organizations have fired thousands of rockets into Israel in recent years, and Hamas constantly strives to improve its military capabilities, extending its rockets’ range, and seeking to acquire anti-aircraft capacities that would constrain the Israel Air Force’s freedom of movement over Gaza.
Several Hezbollah drones have crossed over into Israeli airspace in recent years. In November 2004, the Islamist group flew a reconnaissance drone, the “Mirsad 1,” into Israel for the first time. It was not shot down by the IDF.
In April 2005, the group flew another “Mirsad” drone into Israel airspace; this one, too, was not intercepted.
In the 2006 war, Hezbollah launched an Iranian-made drone capable of carrying explosives into Israel; it was shot down. Another one launched two years earlier crashed in the Mediterranean.