BEIRUT — The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah boasted Thursday that his Shiite militant group sent a sophisticated unmanned drone over Israel last week, saying the device was built by the Jewish state’s archfoe Iran.
Hassan Nasrallah’s acknowledgement of the drone which Israel shot down on October 6 came shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed at Hezbollah and vowed to defend his country against further “threats.”
“A sophisticated reconnaissance aircraft was sent from Lebanese territory … and travelled hundreds of kilometres (miles) over the sea before crossing enemy lines and into occupied Palestine,” Nasrallah said on television.
“It overflew sensitive and important installations for dozens of kilometres until the enemy spotted it near (the nuclear site) Dimona,” Nasrallah added on Hezbollah’s television Al-Manar. He did not identify the installations.
Nasrallah insisted that “possession of such an aerial capacity is a first in the history of any resistance movement in Lebanon and the region.”
“It’s not the first time (that a drone was sent) and it will not be the last. We can reach all the zones” of Israel, said Nasrallah, referring to a less sophisticated drone sent by Hezbollah during its 2006 war against Israel.
He said the latest drone was “Iranian built and assembled in Lebanon.”
An Israeli official questioned by AFP in Jerusalem said he was not surprised that the drone was made in Iran. “The fact that Hezbollah weapons come from Iran does not surprise anyone,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli premier earlier accused Hezbollah of launching the previously unidentified drone and vowed to protect Israeli borders against further intrusions.
“We are acting with determination to protect our borders… as we prevented last weekend an attempt by Hezbollah,” Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying. “We shall continue to act aggressively against all threats.”
Air force jets on Saturday shot down the unarmed drone over southern Israel’s Negev desert after it entered the country’s airspace from the Mediterranean Sea.
At the time the Israeli military dispelled the notion that the drone might have been launched from the Gaza Strip, and was looking into the possibility that Hezbollah militants may have dispatched it.
In July 2006, the Israeli military shot down an unarmed drone operated by Hezbollah over the Jewish state’s territorial waters.
And on April 12, 2005, another pilotless Hezbollah aircraft succeeded in overflying part of northern Israel without being downed.
On Wednesday, army radio and the top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily said the air force had only managed to shoot down the drone on the second attempt last Saturday.
Both reports said that the first missile fired by the F-16 jet missed the drone which was eventually brought down by a Panther missile, the military’s most advanced air-to-air projectile.
A senior air force source quoted by Yediot played down the incident saying it was not unreasonable given the drone’s small size.
“This is not a failure, no other army in the world with Israel’s aerial defence systems could prevent the infiltration of such aircraft,” he said.