Powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah said Thursday it did not send a drone over Israel, hours after the Israeli Air Force shot down an unmanned aircraft off the country's northern coast, near Haifa.
"Hezbollah denies sending any unmanned drone towards occupied Palestine," the movement's television channel Al-Manar said.
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The Al Mayadeen television channel, which is affiliated with Hassan Nasrallah's terror group, also said it denied sending the drone toward Israel.
Hezbollah itself issued a statement in which it denied sending "any surveillance plane towards the occupied Palestinian land."
Navy vessels search for wreckage near Haifa (Photo: Ido Erez)
A Lebanese security official said Beirut does not have any information pertaining to the incident, while the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said its radars did not detect the crossing of any surveillance drones from Lebanon into Israeli airspace.
In an interview with Radio Voice of Lebanon, UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said the UN force cannot confirm that the drone had flown over its area of operations in southern Lebanon.
"UNIFIL is still probing whether the information regarding a drone being sent over UNIFIL’s operation zone is true or not," the National News Agency quoted Tenenti as saying in a statement issued Thursday.
Navy searches for drone remnants (Photo: Ido Erez)
He also said that "the coverage of our aerial monitoring is limited to the air space above the UNIFIL operation zone."
However, a source described as being "familiar with the issue" told Now Lebanon, which is not affiliated with Hezbollah, that the Shiite group's denial is related to the fact that the "drone's destination had been uncovered."
The source said Hezbollah sent the drone in order to "remind everyone that Hezbollah's resistance against Israel continues, even though the group's activists are taking part in the fighting in Syria."
The source further said that the drone incident indicates that Hezbollah "tried to appeal to its supporters, particularly after it sensed that its participation in the fighting in Syria was not being 'digested' well by this public.
"Sending the drone was meant to show that (Hezbollah) is still prepared for the possibility of a confrontation on the southern (Israeli) front."
The source said the move "does not appear to be serious in light of data indicating that Hezbollah's preparations for a conflict with Israel are minimal at this stage. Sending a drone is a calculated move that will not draw an Israeli response that Hezbollah is not ready for."
'Calculated move.' Hezbollah leader Nasrallah (Photo: EPA)
Ynet's military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai said the incident may have been an attempt by Hezbollah to divert public attention from its involvement in the Syrian civil war, which has drawn criticism from both proponents and opponents of the terror group.
The drone may have been sent to gather intelligence on Israeli offshore gas fields or facilities at Haifa Port, according to Ben-Yishai, who said this type of intelligence gathering could have been done eight to 10 kilometers (5-6.5 miles) from the coastline, particularly if the drone was flying at a high altitude and was equipped with a proper camera.
The IDF plans to resume the search for the drone's remnants off Haifa's shore, where it was intercepted. The army does not believe the aircraft was carrying explosives.
Following the incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "I view 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."
Hezbollah admitted it had sent the drone which was intercepted over Israeli territory in October. Remnants of the aircraft fell in an open area in the Mount Hebron region.
A few days after the incident, Nasrallah revealed that the downed aircraft was an Iranian made drone. He said it managed to fly over "a number of important IDF bases" before being intercepted.
It is estimated that Hezbollah has more than 100 Iranian-made drones.
AFP contributed to the report
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