Hezbollah fires anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli drone over south Lebanon

UAV completed its mission unharmed, military says; Hezbollah-linked journalist says terror group has new policy of repelling all Israeli incursions into Lebanese airspace

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

An Israeli Heron military drone flies over the southern Israeli city of Ashdod on November 13, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Illustrative. An Israeli Heron military drone flies over the southern Israeli city of Ashdod on November 13, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The Hezbollah terror group fired surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli drone over southern Lebanon on Wednesday afternoon in a major escalation of conflict, amid lingering tensions along the border.

“Anti-aircraft missiles were just fired toward an IDF remote-piloted aerial vehicle during routine activity over Lebanese territory,” the military said in a statement.

According to the IDF, the aircraft was not damaged in the attack and continued on its mission as planned.

A Hezbollah-affiliated journalist, Ali Choeib, said the terror group was behind the attack, part of an apparent new policy by Hezbollah to repel all Israeli incursions into Lebanese airspace.

“What is certain is that [Hezbollah’s] decision to try to prevent the enemy from continuing to violate its airspace has been made permanent,” Choeib, who works for multiple outlets linked to the terror group, wrote in a tweet.

The missiles fired at the UAV represented a significant increase in the level of violence along the border. Unlike in a case on Monday in which a small, off-the-shelf IDF drone was allegedly downed by Hezbollah as it performed a reconnaissance mission along the Lebanese border, the drone that was fired upon on Wednesday was a much larger and more advanced military model.

Israeli soldiers sit in a tent next to their mobile artillery piece near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, August 26, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

In the incident on Monday, the small quadcopter drone was allegedly brought down with small arms fire, whereas on Wednesday surface-to-air missiles were used.

It was the first time that such weapons were fired at an Israeli drone over Lebanon since October 2019. In that case, Hezbollah fired a Russian SA-8 at an Israeli drone. Then too, the UAV was not damaged.

The attacks on Israeli drones this week came amid lingering tensions between the IDF and Hezbollah over the death of one of the terror group’s members in July in an airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel, for which the Iran-backed militia vowed revenge. Since then, Israeli troops have remained on high alert along the border.

According to the IDF, Hezbollah has attempted at least two sniper attacks on Israeli troops as retaliation for the killing of its operative, once on July 27 and once on August 26, both of which failed.

Though over six months have passed, the Israeli military believes Hezbollah still intends to exact revenge for the killing of its member.

An IDF spokesperson said the precise number of missiles fired at the drone on Wednesday was still being determined.

The IDF drone that crashed on Monday fell near the village of Blida, just west of the border from the Israeli community of Yiftah, and was taken away by members of the terror group, Hezbollah-affiliated media reported at the time. The IDF said there was no risk of intelligence being taken from the drone.

The Hezbollah-linked news site Central Media later shared photographs and a video of the drone, which appeared to be a Matrice model of the Chinese manufacturer DJI, equipped with a camera. The device did not appear to be damaged.

Israel is technically at war with Lebanon, where it has fought two wars — one in 1982 against Palestinian terrorists who had established a base of operations in the country and one in 2006 against Hezbollah. Lebanon regularly complains about Israeli surveillance drones invading its airspace, but the IDF maintains that such incursions are necessary to track the illegal activities of Hezbollah, which the Lebanese government is supposed to keep in check.

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