Israel believes that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard was responsible for the unmanned drone launched from Lebanon that was shot down in Israeli airspace on Thursday.
The Israeli prime minister was flying across northern Israel when the drone was spotted above the sea on Thursday, 10km west of the port city Haifa. Netanyahu’s helicopter was forced to land and was grounded until the Israeli Air Force had secured Israeli air space.
“The Israeli military command doesn’t treat drones launched from Lebanon lightly, since their goal may be not only taking pictures, but also an assassination of senior officials, military or political,” an unnamed Western diplomat is quoted in Nahar newspaper.
Initial media reports presumed the drone had been launched by Hizbollah. In October last year, the Lebanese militant group has claimed as a great victory their successful piloting of an unmanned drone in the skies above the Israeli Negev for more than half an hour before it was downed, several miles from Israel’s Soreq nuclear facility. In fact, the Israeli military had stated only that an unmanned aircraft had been launched “from Lebanon”.
Iran’s involvement in this cross-border incident, and Washington’s pleas for restraint, may explain Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to threaten retaliation for the incursion. The Israeli prime minister said only that he has taken “the attempt to breach our borders very seriously”.
The United States has urged Israel to demonstrate restraint in its response to the alleged incursion, according to Lebanese media reports.
According to Syrian rebels and Israeli intelligence, Tehran has poured Revolutionary Guard soldiers into Syria and Lebanon to support its Shiite allies. The Iranian fighters, thought to include several senior commanders, have been tasked with arming and training Syrian soldiers in sophisticated weaponry, such as short and long range missiles, and upgrading Hizbollah’s drone capabilities. Arab media outlets have reported that Iran transfers five tonnes of weaponry into Syria every week.
But while drone flights over Israel may be provocative, it is Bashar al-Assad’s vast cache of chemical weapons in Syria that are of urgent concern to both Israel and the US. Barak Obama warned the Assad regime on Friday that proof it had used chemical weapons against its people would be a ‘game-changer’.
“Israel has laid down a clear red line that if strategic weapons are moved, it will take action. Otherwise it is sticking by the international understanding that there is almost nothing Israel can do that will make the situation better. There is no great appetite in Israel to do anything,” a diplomat said.
The Daily Telegraph