Israel shoots down mystery drone, but who does it belong to?
Drone destroyed near nuclear reactor in southern Israel was probably sent by an increasingly sophisticated Hezbollah
ISRAELIS are speculating over the origins of a mystery drone that was shot down over the Negev desert yesterday, with the prime suspects being Lebanese-based terrorists Hezbollah.
The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) entered Israel from the Mediterranean Sea, crossing the Gaza Strip and spending 15 minutes in Israeli airspace before being shot down (see video below) south of Mount Hebron around 10am local time by warplanes.
Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak said: "We view this incident of attempting to enter Israeli airspace very severely and we will consider our response later."
But who will face the Israeli response?
The possibility that armed Palestinian groups have got their hands on a drone has been swiftly rejected, leaving Iran and Hezbollah, the Islamist group supported by Tehran, as the prime suspects.
Amos Harel in Haaretz writes: “In recent years, several reports surfaced in the Arab media that Gaza terror groups are showing an interest in UAVs. This incident, however, seems like a more complicated operation and therefore the immediate suspect is Hezbollah.”
Hezbollah has flown at least five drones over Israel in the past, but, contrast to yesterday’s UAV, they have always entered the Jewish state from the north.
An Israeli navy ship was damaged in 2006 by a drone laden with explosives while two others escaped unharmed after being spotted over northern Israeli in 2004 and 2005.
Harel writes: “Hezbollah invests much in operating drones in a continuous and in-depth manner, while receiving support from Iran. The drones that the IDF intercepted in the past, all in the area around the Lebanese border, were the Iranian-made Ababil drone. Since then, it can be assumed that Hezbollah has upgraded its equipment.”
He believes the operators of the drone were either hoping to photograph possible targets within Israel or test options for penetrating Israeli airspace by checking the preparation and response time of the Israel Defence Forces.
Ron Ben-Yishai, writing for Ynet, agrees the drone was very likely sent by Hezbollah. He suggests it was on its way to “test the option of infiltrating the nuclear reactor in Dimona, perhaps even to examine the option of targeting the plant in a future conflict”.
Ben-Yishai explains that “the Iranians are aware that Israel has the capability to deal with rockets and missiles with its Iron Dome and Arrow air defence systems, but dealing with the threat of a slow drone poses a different kind of challenge”.
Other suspects include Egyptian intelligence or Islamist terrorist groups in the Sinai peninsula. The latter have become more active following the overthrow of the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
But some have refused to rule out the possibility that the downing of the drone yesterday was a good old-fashioned military cock-up.
Retired Lebanese general Hisham Jaber told Iranian government mouthpiece Press TV that the drone was probably American.
“Maybe it came from Sinai and Egypt,” he said, “but I prefer the idea that since it came from the sea it may have come from an American aircraft carrier and was shot down by accident.”
Alternatively, said the general, the drone might have originated from US military bases in Saudi Arabia.
He concluded: "If Israel remains silent after its investigation and closes the file, it means like we said that it came from a friendly side and it is not in their interest to talk about it.”