BEIRUT — A Lebanese government investigation blamed Israel for a pair of drones that crashed in Beirut last month, saying the devices were flown on an attack mission and one was armed with 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) of explosives, Lebanon’s defense minister said Thursday.
Elias Bou Saab said investigations show the drones came in from over the Mediterranean Sea on August 25, with one crashing on the roof of the terror group Hezbollah’s media office in southern Beirut, and the other exploding and crashing into a nearby plot of land 42 minutes later.
Speaking at a press conference in Beirut to present the findings of the investigation, Bou Saab said it was “the most dangerous act of aggression by Israel” since the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.
“It is clear that Israel wanted to change the rules of engagement with Lebanon. It was the first time we see drones carrying explosives fly over the airport, endangering civil aviation and commercial flights and explode in the streets of Lebanon,” he said.
Bou Saab said the drones were launched from Habonim airfield outside Haifa, and described to journalists a sophisticated military mission involving another unmanned aerial vehicle controlling the attack drones from above. He said it was unclear what the attack’s target was, but it was clear they were not on an intelligence mission.
Bou Saab said that the data retrieved from the intact drone — from which the explosive charge was purportedly removed for the press conference — offered a set of detailed times and locations.
Journalists were shown the drone that crashed, which was described as an “custom made military drone.”
He said the devices were “advanced military production” and even listed the name and address of one Israeli company he said made some of the components.
In the pre-dawn hours of August 25, one UAV exploded in the air outside the offices of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, causing damage to the building. A second crashed nearby and was retrieved by the terror group. The attack reportedly targeted the Lebanese terror group’s precision missile project.
Both Hezbollah and the Lebanese military claimed the drones were sent by Israel. The Israel Defense Forces refused to publicly comment on the incident, saying it does not comment on “foreign reports.”
The attack raised the potential for conflict amid heightened regional tensions. Israel has not confirmed its involvement, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Iran and Hezbollah of racing to build a missile-production program in Lebanon and vowed to destroy it.
The type of UAV used in the Beirut attack has raised considerable questions about the drones’ provenance, with analysts suggesting they could be Iranian.
Hours before the incident, Israel said it had thwarted an Iranian plot in Syria to launch drones with explosives into Israel.
Israeli media have reported that the drones in Beirut targeted an office housing a “planetary mixer,” a large industrial machine that is critical to making precision-guided missiles. Hezbollah denies it produces such weapons in Lebanon.
Israel has said it would not allow the group to have precision-guided missiles, as that would be a game-changing technology.
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy, and the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah to be its most immediate military threat. Hezbollah has a battle-tested army that has been fighting alongside the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria’s civil war.
Israel has acknowledged carrying out scores of airstrikes in Syria aimed at preventing alleged Iranian arms transfers to Hezbollah. But in August, Israel was believed to have widened its campaign and struck Iranian or Hezbollah targets in Iraq and Lebanon as well.