Second such incident in six months || IDF shoots down drone from Lebanon opposite Haifa coast
Unmanned aircraft was shot down by Israel Air Force fighter jets over sea opposite the northern Israeli city; Hezbollah denies involvement.
Israel's Air Force shot down an unmanned aircraft from Lebanon over the sea opposite the northern Israeli coastal city of Haifa on Thursday afternoon.
At around 13:30 P.M., the Air Force control system identified the unmanned craft, which is most likely from Hezbollah, and launched fighter jets into the air. An F-16 jet then fired an air-to-air missile and downed the unmanned aircraft. The remains of the aircraft fell into the sea about 10 kilometers from Haifa's coastline, within Israel's territorial waters. Israel Navy is searching for the remains of the downed aircraft.
IDF spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said that the IAF commander approved the operation "after confirming the aircraft belonged neither to us nor to friendly forces."
The IDF has yet to say what the origin of the drone is – whether it was manufactured in Lebanon or Iran, and what kind of model it is. The IDF will check whether the craft contains explosives or surveillance equipment, and whether it transmitted any footage back to those who sent it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was briefed on the drone's attempt to enter Israel when he was on an Air Force helicopter heading north. Netanyahu's helicopter landed for a short time until the IDF had finished shooting down the drone, and then continued on its course.
The prime minister said in response to the incident that Israel will prepare as necessary in the face of any threat to enter its borders, whether from Syria or Lebanon – from air, land or sea. "I see the attempt to breach our borders with unmanned aircraft very seriously. We will do what needs to be done in order to safeguard our security."
Suspicion immediately fell on Hezbollah, which sent a similar drone last year, and vowed to send more. Hezbollah denied sending the drone Thursday, however. The group's Al Manar TV made the announcement through a one line statement flashed as an urgent news bar on its screen.
In October 2012, a drone that originated in Lebanon entered Israel from the direction of the Gaza Strip and lingered over Israeli towns for several minutes before being shot down above the Negev. Following the incident, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah confirmed the drone left Lebanese territory, adding in an interview with Al-Manar TV that "this isn't the first flyover, and isn't the last."
The IDF estimate that Hezbollah has more than ten drones in its possession. IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said last month at the Herzliya Conference that Hezbollah has "a significant number of unmanned aerial vehicles, one of which has entered Israeli territory, a scenario we may encounter in the future."
Meanwhile, earlier on Thursday afternoon, Lebanese media reported that a U.S. diplomatic mission was touring the Israel-Lebanon border. Lebanese military officers accompanied the American mission on a tour of the border in eastern Lebanon around 12:30 P.M. In a separate incident reported by Lebanese media, eye witnesses said that Israel Air Force jets were flying over southern Lebanon, simulating an airstrike.