An internal Israeli Air Force probe has concluded that a drone that entered Israeli airspace last month likely crossed the border as result of “human error,” the Haaretz newspaper reported on Monday.
The unmanned aerial vehicle entered northern Israel from Syria on July 17. The Israel Defense Forces attempted to shoot down the aircraft three times, but failed. Haaretz said Sunday the UAV belonged to Russia.
On Monday, the daily reported that Israel spoke to Russian air force operators seven times in the immediate aftermath of the incident. The Russians initially denied they sent the drone and only later admitted it was theirs.
The UAV was launched from a Russian-controlled base near Damascus. After it crossed the border, Israeli officials hurriedly called their Russian counterparts on the hotline established between the two countries to coordinate on Syria. But in seven phone calls over some 20 minutes, the Russians insisted they did not send the drone into Israeli territory. After Israel established that it was not an Israeli drone, the order was given to shoot it down.
But Israel now believes the incident was the result of “human error,” as Russia had insisted, the report said.
Israel’s security services had originally suspected the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah was responsible for 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.
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.
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.