Israeli planes trigger sonic booms over Lebanon in possible response to drone dispatch

Hezbollah silent on claims it sent the unmanned aircraft downed over Israel on Saturday

This image made from a video released by the Israel Defense Forces shows the downing of a drone that entered Israeli airspace in southern Israel on Saturday. (photo credit: AP/Israel Defense Forces via AP video)
This image made from a video released by the Israel Defense Forces shows the downing of a drone that entered Israeli airspace in southern Israel on Saturday. (photo credit: AP/Israel Defense Forces via AP video)

Israeli planes flew into Lebanese air space and broke the sound barrier Sunday, causing sonic booms, Lebanese media reported.

The sortie appeared to be in response to the infiltration of Israeli air space Saturday by a drone Israeli officials suspect was launched by the Lebanon-based terror organization Hezbollah.

The booms were audible Sunday in several locations in Lebanon, according to the report from Lebanon’s official National News Agency.

Israel’s air force shot the drone down north of Beersheba on Saturday. It had penetrated deep into Israeli airspace and flown for half an hour before it was intercepted.

After an initial investigation, military officials said the unmanned aerial vehicle did not come from the Gaza Strip, leading the army to consider the possibility that it originated in Lebanon.

Officials reportedly believe the drone may have been launched by Hezbollah, in an Iranian-ordered spying operation.

Hezbollah has flown drones into Israeli airspace a few times in the past, though not for several years. Hezbollah neither confirmed or denied responsibility, and Hezbollah and Iran both refrained from immediately commenting on the drone’s downing.

IDF Spokesperson Yoav Mordechai said that Israel’s air force was able to identify the drone while it was flying over the Mediterranean, and tracked it throughout its flight over Israel until the decision was made to shoot it down over an unpopulated area.

Nobody was hurt in the incident.

Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said Israeli systems on the ground alerted the air force to the drone Saturday morning. She said it flew over the Gaza Strip but did not originate from the Palestinian territory, adding that Israel did not know the drone’s starting point and an investigation was under way.

Leibovich did not give more details, but Israel media reported that it might have been an intelligence-gathering drone that was not carrying explosives.

Leibovich said the operation was successful and the military was in control throughout.

“We had monitoring contact from the ground and from the air. We alerted jet planes that escorted the unmanned aerial vehicle and due to some operational considerations we decided to intercept the unmanned aerial vehicle in the northern Negev area, which has no population,” Leibovich said.

Leibovich would not elaborate how the unmanned vehicle was brought down. She said troops were searching for debris.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the IDF for its successful interception. “We will continue to protect our land, sea and air borders on behalf of the citizens of Israel,” he said.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, commented on the gravity of the incident, saying that Israel’s leaders “view this incident of attempting to enter Israeli airspace very severely and we will consider our response later.”

Earlier unconfirmed Palestinian reports had stated that the drone came from the Gaza Strip. The IDF ruled this out.

The launch of a drone from Gaza would have been an unprecedented intrusion into Israel from the Hamas-controlled Strip. Hamas and other terrorist organizations have fired thousands of rockets into Israel in recent years, and Hamas constantly strives to improve its military capabilities, extending its rockets’ range, and seeking to acquire anti-aircraft capacities that would constrain the air force’s freedom of movement over Gaza.

Several Hezbollah drones have crossed over into Israeli airspace in recent years. In November 2004, the Islamist group flew a reconnaissance drone, the “Mirsad 1,” into Israel for the first time. It was not shot down by the IDF.

In April 2005, the group flew another “Mirsad” drone into Israel airspace. This one, too, was not intercepted.

In the 2006 war, Hezbollah launched an Iranian-made drone capable of carrying explosives into Israel, and it was shot down. Another one launched two years earlier crashed in the Mediterranean.

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