Cleared for publication: Israeli F-16 fighter jets downed a drone off of Haifa's coastline at around 1:30 pm Thursday.
The unmanned aircraft, which was flying at an altitude of about 6,000 feet (1,800 meters), when it was downed, apparently entered Israel's airspace from the north and was heading south. Explosions were heard in the area.
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Israel Navy vessels were searching for the wreckage. The drone was apparently sent by Hezbollah from Lebanon.
Israeli Air Force (IAF) warplanes were scrambled from the Ramat David airbase and reports of an Israeli flyovers in Lebanon followed the drone's interception.
Downing of drone that entered Israeli airspace in October (Photo: Reuters)
The IDF's Spokesperson's Unit issued a statement saying, "Today the (army) thwarted the penetration of an unmanned aircraft into Israeli territory. Shortly after 1 pm a drone was identified as it was flying north to south along the Lebanese coastline. The air defense system tracked it for (several) minuteswhile it was still in Lebanese territory, and it was under surveillance throughout its flight until the interception.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (Photo: EPA)
"IAF planes were scrambled, as were combat helicopters, after it was determined that the aircraft was not friendly, and certainly not (an Israeli) aircraft. The Air Force commander authorized the interception," the army said.
The drone was downed over the sea, some eight to 10 kilometers (5-6.5 nautical miles) off Haifa's coastline after being identified by IAF radars at 13:30 pm. It was downed at exactly 13:40 pm by two F-16 fighter jets on the first attempt.
The army noted that the downed drone was relatively small, and it remains unclear whether it was carrying explosives, like other attack drones in Hezbollah's possession. The IDF does not know at this time what the drone's destination was, but said it was headed south along the Tyre-Zidon line.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received an update on the attempted infiltration of Israeli airspace when he was on a flight to the country’s north. The prime minister’s helicopters landed for a short time, until the drone was shot down, and then continued on its way.
Navy vessel searches for drone remnants (Photo: Ido Erez)
“I see this attempt to cross into Israeli territory as a very serious issue. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to ensure the citizens of Israel remain safe,” the PM said in a statement.
Earlier, during a visit to the home of Sheikh Muhammad Tarif in the Druze village of Julis, Netanyahu addressed the general threat Israel faces from the north. "We are anxiously and concernedly eyeing the developments in Syria and Lebanon. Syria is splitting and Lebanon is unstable. Both places present threats we cannot ignore.
"Syria holds two direct threats to Israel: First, the spillage of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations, and secondly, attempts by terrorists to penetrate our borders and fire at our communities," the PM said.
"The State of Israel is prepared for any threat originating in Syria as well as Lebanon, be it from sea, air or land."
Word of the interception quickly spread in Haifa. Some residents witnessed the downing itself, while others in the Stella Maris neighborhood watched as Navy vessels were searching for the wreckage.
Ynet's military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai said that it can be safely assumed that the downed drone's point of departure was a Hezbollah base in the Lebanon Valley. It then flew southwest along the shoreline at a distance of six miles from the coast at an altitude of two kilometers (1.2 miles).
It is clear that the drone was quickly spotted thanks to the lessons learned from the previous drone penetration into Israel.
As part of these lessons, additional radars were placed in the north so that even the smallest of aircraft could be identified.
It is safe to assume that Hezbollah and the Iranian instructors aiding them in the RPV (remotely-piloted vehicle) and MRPV (mini remotely-piloted vehicle) field wanted to test anew their route into Israel as well as the IDF's alertness in wake of highly publicized reports of Patriot missile batteries being deployed in the Haifa region. The Patriot missiles come equipped with a special radar capable of spotting just such small drones.
It is also possible that Hezbollah and its patron's current attempt at penetrating a drone into Israeli airspace stemmed not just from their desire to test Israel's preparedness and interception abilities, but also from their desire to influence public conception.
Hezbollah's meddling in Lebanon is rising, and the heavy damage the Shiite group causes Lebanon has drawn a lot of anger against the organization within Lebanon, leading even some prominent Hezbollah supporters from the Shiite sects to openly slam its involvement in the Syrian civil war.
It is possible that the drone was sent in an attempt to divert public opinion back to Hezbollah's efforts to "protect Lebanon from Israel."
In any case, it is safe to assume that the saga of the Iranian made RPVs and MRPVs operated by Hezbollah is far from over and we are likely to witness them again during an onslaught of missile fire from the north should another war break out.
On October 6, 2012 two F-16I fighter jets downed a Hezbollah drone that breached Israeli airspace. Remnants of the aircraft fell in an open area in the Mount Hebron region.
A few days later, Hezbollah Chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah revealed that the downed aircraft was an Iranian made drone and claimed that the drone managed to fly over "a number of important IDF bases" before being intercepted.
An IDF investigation of the event revealed that the drone had penetrated Israel through the Gaza Strip and began traveling east. According to the IDF, the drone was under IDF surveillance from the moment it entered Israel, but it was decided to shoot it down only when it reached the Mount Hebron area "for military reasons."
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