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Air force said on alert for further drone incursions

IAF flies over Beirut after drone enters Israel; Hezbollah claims responsibility

Israeli aircraft fly at low altitude in apparent message to the Iran-backed terror group, which says drone carried out reconnaissance for 40 minutes before returning to Lebanon

Illustrative photo of an IAF F-16 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an IAF F-16 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flash90)

The Hezbollah terror group on Friday claimed responsibility for launching a drone into Israel that evaded Israeli air defenses before returning to Lebanon.

The Israel Defense Forces said it fired an Iron Dome interceptor missile at the small unmanned aircraft but missed and also scrambled fighter jets and attack aircraft, setting off warning sirens across wide swaths of the north.

In a statement, Hezbollah said the “Hassan” model drone was on a reconnaissance mission that reached 70 kilometers (43 miles) inside Israeli territory. It was not clear if the drone shot recorded any images while in Israeli airspace.

“The Islamic resistance launched the Hassan drone into occupied Palestinian territory and it surveyed the area for forty minutes,” the statement said.

Hezbollah said the drone “returned safely” to Lebanon, while noting the failed interception attempts.

The IDF earlier said the drone returned to Lebanon “after a few minutes” and that the aircraft was a “glider” variety, but did not specify the exact model. The military also did not accuse Hezbollah of launching the drone in an initial statement on the incident.

The Hezbollah statement was issued as Israeli Air Force aircraft flew over Beirut at low altitude, in an apparent warning to the Iran-backed terror organization.

Citing an unnamed Lebanese security source, Al Jazeera reported two Israeli fighter jets flew from the Mediterranean Sea over the Lebanese capital before departing several minutes later.

Hebrew media reports said the Israeli jets flew over Beirut’s Dahiya neighborhood, a Hezbollah stronghold, deliberately setting off sonic booms.

According to Channel 13 news, Israel has been bracing for larger drones than the one Hezbollah sent across the border, which reportedly reached as far as the Sea of Galilee.

The network said the IAF remained on alert for any additional drone incursions.

Additionally, the report said the warning sirens in northern Israel were set off by the Iron Dome and not the small drone, which the interceptor missiles are not designed to counter.

Friday’s infiltration came a day after the military downed a drone on the Lebanese border that it said belonged to the Hezbollah terror group and after warnings by Israeli officials of drone attacks in recent days. Troops also shot down a drone that entered Israel from Gaza.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed the Iran-backed group had begun manufacturing its own drones. “We have been producing drones in Lebanon for a long time, and whoever wants to buy them, submit an order,” he said.

Lebanon and Israel are technically in a state of war and the heavily guarded border is commonly penetrated by drones from both sides. Last month, Nasrallah claimed that Lebanon’s ability to shoot down Israeli drones had halted regular unmanned flights over the border. Israeli officials did not directly comment on the Hezbollah leader’s claims, but have expressed concerns over the terrorist militia’s anti-aircraft capabilities in the past.

On Sunday, Israeli troops accidentally opened fire on an IDF drone near the Lebanese border, after suspecting it was an enemy aircraft.

A top Israeli official warned earlier this week that UAV attacks were likely to increase, saying they were a growing problem worldwide. “It is cheap and easy to carry out attacks with them,” the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity during a state visit to Bahrain by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Israeli military officials have repeatedly warned of the threat posed by drones, both simple off-the-shelf varieties that can be used for surveillance and more powerful models, some based on Iranian designs, that can be used to carry out complex attacks.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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