A drone that crossed into northern Israel last month belonged to Russia — not Hezbollah, as was initially suspected — the Haaretz newspaper reported Sunday.
The unmanned aerial vehicle entered Israeli airspace from Syria on July 17. The Israel Defense Forces attempted to shoot down the aircraft three times, but failed.
Israel’s security services initially suspected the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah was responsible for the breach; however, Russian officials admitted to their Israeli counterparts that the drone was, in fact, theirs, the newspaper reported.
While the Russian officials claimed the incident was the result of “human error,” it is possible the Russian military was testing Israel’s aerial defense capabilities.
Though Russian aircraft have crossed from Syria into Israel before, it was the first known case where the IDF retaliated to the breach.
The army’s aerial defense unit fired two Patriot surface-to-air missiles at the UAV, and a third attempt was made to bring it down with an air-to-air missile fired by an Israeli fighter jet.
In November, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said a Russian plane had breached Israeli airspace, but the matter was “immediately fixed through communications channels” between the two countries. And late last month King Abdullah of Jordan told American lawmakers that Israeli and Jordanian jets together confronted Russian warplanes in January over southern Syria and warned them away from crossing their shared border.
Though the origin of the drone wasn’t initially clear, a military official told Channel 2 news that the army believed the UAV was Russian-made.
The launches triggered air-raid alarms across northern Israel. No rockets were known to have been fired into Israeli territory, however.
Hezbollah-linked Lebanese fighter Anes al-Naqqash claimed at the time that the drone had indeed been sent by his group, and said it had just begun photographing army maneuvers in the Golan when it was shot at and turned back.
Last year, Jerusalem and Moscow set up a mechanism to avoid accidental clashes like this one, as Russia helps Syrian President Bashar Assad maintain his grip on the country after more than five years of civil war.