The Israel Defense Forces had prior intelligence on Hezbollah’s Saturday launching of three unarmed drones at the Karish gas field off Israel’s Mediterranean coast, and believes it was an attempt to convey a message to Israel.
One of the aircraft was downed by an F-16 fighter jet and the other two by Barak 8 missiles launched from the Saar 5 Class Corvette INS Eilat. According to defense officials, all three were intercepted “at a safe distance from” the drilling platform.
Military spokesman Ran Kochav told the Kan public radio on Sunday morning that the terror group’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, “thought he would catch [Israel] off-guard.”
“But we are ready, in terms of our early warning systems, and in terms of intelligence, the Navy and Air Force, to protect Israel’s assets,” Kochav said.
He said Hezbollah “suffered a significant operational setback” in its thwarted attempt to convey a message to Israel.
Kohav added that Israel’s sovereignty was not breached in the incident, indicating that the UAVs were downed over Lebanon’s UN-recognized territorial waters.
Tensions have risen over Karish in recent weeks after a gas production vessel arrived in Israel to launch extraction operations in the offshore field. This drew condemnation from Lebanon, which had laid claim to parts of the field. Israel says Karish is in part of its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone.
Nasrallah recently threatened Israel over its plans to extract gas from the contested offshore reserve, saying that his organization is capable of preventing such action, including by force.
But both the Israeli military and Hezbollah said the drones launched on Saturday afternoon were not armed, and were used for surveillance purposes and to prove the terror group has the capability to approach the rig.
Hezbollah said that mission was accomplished successfully and “a message was conveyed.”
Lebanon and Israel — which have no diplomatic relations and consider each other enemy states — have been holding indirect talks brokered by the US for close to two years to resolve a maritime border dispute.
But talks over the field have been frozen since last year, after Lebanon tried to move its claim further into the zone Israel claims as its own. Last month, the Biden administration said recent meetings held between its energy envoy and Israeli and Lebanese officials resulted in progress.
Israel and Lebanon each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as within their exclusive economic zones.
Both countries have economic interests in the territory, which contains lucrative natural gas. Lebanon, which has been facing an economic crisis since late 2019, sees the resources as a potential lifeline.
Last month, the IDF held a major military exercise in Cyprus, simulating a ground offensive deep inside Lebanon in a potential war against the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
The terror group has long been a significant adversary for the IDF, with an estimated arsenal of nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel.