IAF says over 150 enemy drones intercepted amid war, with challenges in detecting them

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A Hezbollah drone is seen near Acre in northern Israel, February 20, 2024.(Screenshot: X)
A Hezbollah drone is seen near Acre in northern Israel, February 20, 2024.(Screenshot: X)

The Israeli Air Force’s Aerial Defense Array has intercepted more than 150 drones using ground-based systems, such as the Iron Dome, amid the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip and fighting along the Lebanon border, according to new data published by the military.

Many more drones were downed by fighter jets, according to the IAF.

Drone attacks have largely been carried out from Lebanon. Several have been launched from Gaza, and there have also been numerous drones launched by Iran-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Hezbollah’s near-daily explosive-laden drone attacks from Lebanon have been one of the Aerial Defense Array’s most significant challenges amid the war. In numerous cases, the IAF has been challenged to detect the threat in time to intercept it, leading to casualties.

The terror group in recent months has increasingly been using explosive-laden drones, alongside anti-tank guided missiles and barrages of rockets.

Hezbollah’s drones have largely targeted army positions or Israeli communities on the border, with a handful of incidents of drones being launched much further, even up to 40 kilometers deep into Israel.

While being able to detect drones accurately is important, it is also a complicated part of thwarting the threat, IAF officials say.

The Aerial Defense Array uses a wide range of sensors to detect what it calls “suspicious aerial targets” heading into Israeli airspace. Though repeatedly, with Israeli radars set to high sensitivity, many such targets have later been determined to have been “false identifications” — often birds.

At times, Israeli drones that failed to identify themselves correctly were also shot down.

Still, Hezbollah’s drones are not always identified by the IAF until it is far too late to intercept them.

The topography on the Lebanon border, with many ridges and hills, can potentially be a challenge for Israeli radars. This, combined with the often very short flight paths, makes it difficult for the IAF to respond in time to the attack when it does detect the drone.

In contrast, during Iran’s attack on Israel on April 14, the IAF and its allies were able to detect hundreds of Iranian drones heading toward Israel hours in advance, preventing any of them from entering Israeli airspace.

The IAF says that nothing in the Aerial Defense Array is automatic, and every identification and launch of an interceptor is carried out manually by its soldiers.

According to recent IAF assessments, Hezbollah is attempting to harm Israel’s air defenses amid the fighting, and would especially work to target the Aerial Defense Array’s systems in an all-out war. Last week, Hezbollah published a video showing it striking with a guided missile what it claimed was an Iron Dome launcher in northern Israel.

In a war, Hezbollah is likely to launch swarms of drones, rather than two or three at a time as it currently does, in what could become a major challenge, according to the IAF assessments.

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