IAF grounds fleet of drones after crash at Lebanon sea border

Military says crash due to malfunction, without elaborating; aircraft retrieved by navy forces

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Illustrative: An IAI Heron 1 is seen flying off Israel's coast in early August 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: An IAI Heron 1 is seen flying off Israel's coast in early August 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

An Israeli Air Force drone crashed into the sea along Israel’s maritime border with Lebanon on Thursday, before being retrieved by the Navy, the military said Friday.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, the crash occurred due to a malfunction. No further details on the cause were published.

The IDF said the entire fleet of the drone in question, which it did not identify, would be grounded amid an investigation into the crash.

Lebanon and Israel are technically in a state of war and the heavily guarded border is commonly penetrated by drones from both sides.

Recently, tensions have escalated between the two countries amid US-mediated talks over a maritime border dispute.

A London-listed company licensed by Israel to extract gas from an offshore field that is in part claimed by Lebanon announced Thursday that it would begin yielding output within weeks.

A sea-based Iron Dome air defense system is seen on a Navy ship, guarding the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in footage published by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group has threatened the gas extraction installations amid the talks, prompting the IDF to ramp up defenses and activity in the area.

In July, Hezbollah launched four unarmed drones toward Karish, which were downed by the IDF.

In 2015, an IAF Elbit Hermes 450 drone, crash-landed in the sea off the coast of Lebanon, being seized by the Lebanese Army.

File: In this photo released by the Lebanese Army official website, Lebanese soldiers remove an Israeli drone they say crashed in the port of Tripoli, northern Lebanon, Saturday, July 11, 2015. (Lebanese Army Website via AP)

Other smaller, off-the-shelf models used for simple reconnaissance missions, crash or are brought down in Lebanon — and the Gaza Strip — at a frequency of once every few months.

Until recently, talk of Israel’s armed drones was barred from publication by the Military Censor. For years the IDF would not confirm it uses armed drones, and Israeli journalists who attempted to report on it came up against the IDF censor.

The IDF said that drones make up about 80% of the total operational flight hours in the Air Force. Israel has not disclosed how many attack drones it has.

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