Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Friday called Syria’s downing of an Israeli F-16 last weekend during border clashes “a great military accomplishment.”
Meanwhile Channel 10 reported that the Israeli army viewed the downing of the drone as an operational failing, as it should not have been brought down by an old Syrian anti-aircraft missile. The report did not provide sources for the claim.
The results of an Israeli Air Force probe into the incident will be presented to Air Force head Amiram Norkin on Tuesday.
On February 10 an Iranian drone was flown into Israeli territory, near the Jordanian border, where it was shot down by an IAF Apache attack helicopter. In response to the drone incursion, Israeli jets attacked the mobile command center from which it was operated.
During the reprisal raid, one of the eight Israeli F-16 fighter jets that took part in the operation was apparently hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and crashed. The Israeli Air Force then conducted a second round of airstrikes, destroying between a third and half of Syria’s air defenses, according to the IDF.
Nasrallah, in a televised speech, also said Lebanon’s maritime border with the Jewish state was now a far more contentious matter than the land border, and vowed not to back down from threats against Israel over contested rights to offshore natural gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea.
Nasrallah said the maritime border issue unites “all of Lebanon.” He called on the Lebanese government to take a strong stand in the face of American mediation efforts.
“America is not an honest broker… and one should assume that it works as an advocate for Israel,” Nasrallah said.
“Lebanese officials must tell the Americans, ‘Listen to our demands if you want us to keep Hezbollah away from Israel,'” he said.
Details of the American mediation have not been made public, but appear to be based on efforts years earlier to divide the offshore fields between the two countries. Nasrallah said the US wants the Lebanese to trade the more “difficult” maritime borders in exchange for settling the “easy” dispute over land.
In a defiant tone, Nasrallah said that the potential oil and gas yields would be a lifeline for Lebanon’s struggling economy. “The only hope is the oil resources in our land,” he said.
“If you (Israelis) prevent us (from exploration of gas and oil), if you bomb us we will bomb you, and if you hit us we will hit you,” he said.
Earlier this month Lebanon issued an offshore oil and gas exploration tender on the country’s maritime border, prompting a war of words with Israel, which has laid claim to one of the fields in question.
As Israel’s gas fields and shipping lanes grow more and more important, the country’s navy is investing considerable funds and resources to defend offshore interests from Lebanese threats.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Monday warned that a number of mounting disputes with Israel, including offshore gas exploration and the construction of a border wall by Israel, could lead to war.
“Lebanon has taken a decision to defend itself whether there is an Israeli attack on its land or on its oil rights,” Aoun said in an interview on the Egyptian news program ON Live.
Hezbollah has threatened to open fire on IDF soldiers building the barrier, Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported earlier this month. Jerusalem has said the barrier is being constructed inside Israeli territory, an assertion Beirut disputes.
On Thursday Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, a former deputy head of Hezbollah’s executive council, said in Tehran that “the Israeli enemy is living under the nightmare of a Hezbollah incursion into the Galilee.”
The downing of an Israeli F-16 fighter plane during strikes against targets in Syria on Saturday had “harmed Israel’s superiority and created a new equation in the region,” he claimed.
Israel, for its part, has been warning that Iran — through Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Russian and Iranian-backed Assad regime in Syria — is turning both countries into forward bases to manufacture rockets and attack the Jewish state.