A screenshot taken from video released by IDF showing downing of drone in October.
A screenshot taken from video released by the IDF Spokesman, showing an unidentified drone being downed, October 6, 2012.
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Eliyahu Hershkovitz
IDF troops attempting to locate and recover downed drone, Southern Hebron Hills, October 6, 2012. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Israeli Air Force shot down an unidentified aerial vehicle that penetrated Israel's airspace on Saturday. IDF forces shot down the drone over the Negev, south of Mount Hebron.

The IDF said Saturday that the drone arrived in Israel from the west after flying over the Mediterranean and the Gaza Strip. It said the incident is under investigation.

After the drone traveled east some 35 miles (56 km) across Israel's southern Negev desert, the drone was shot down above a forest in an unpopulated area near the border with the West Bank, the IDF spokesperson said.

IDF Spokesperson Yoav Mordechai said Saturday that the IAF tracked the drone "throughout the course of its flight," maintaining contact with both aerial and ground forces. Fighter jets from the Ramon air force base were dispatched, he said, and after receiving approval they downed the drone over Yatir forest, located in the north-eastern part of the Negev.

"It was decided to down the drone over an unpopulated area," Mordechai said, adding that the IDF views the incident as a successful operation. "The aircraft was identified before entering Israeli airspace and was under constant tracking."

Military forces were sent to recover the drone's wreckage for further examination. The IDF also said that IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz was briefed on the initial findings.

The IDF admitted that the drone flew over Israeli territory for long minutes, but Mordechai insisted it was "much less than half an hour."

Several drones have been launched toward Israel in the past decade. In the past, small drones penetrated Israel’s airspace from the north. Hamas reportedly showed interest in unmanned aerial vehicles, but it was never confirmed by Israel’s defense industry. However, sources within the security establishment had confirmed in the past that Hezbollah is involved, both financially and logistically, in supporting terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

The IDF said Saturday that it plans on examining the drone’s flight course in attempt to establish its origin. It will also investigate what the drone’s objective was: reconnaissance and intelligence gathering (that also may be used for propaganda) or to target Israeli towns or IDF compounds.

During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah launched Iranian Ababil drones, capable of carrying explosives. The drones were intercepted and downed by IAF fighter jets.

Another drone penetrated Israeli airspace from Lebanon in 2004, however was not identified by the IDF. The drone flew over Israel for several minutes, then left Israel's airspace and crashed in the Mediterranean while on route to Lebanon. Following the incident the IAF was criticized for not identifying the drone before it entered Israel.

In 2010, Israeli Air Force shot down an apparently unmanned balloon that flew over the Dimona nuclear reactor.

Iranian media in past years reported that the country is developing a new combat drone named Karar, saying it will have bombing capabilities. According to reports, Iran claims that the Karar's range could reach 1,000 kilometers.

The IDF mentioned that in past incidents, that the damage done to Israel by the drones was not the exposing of classified material, but the fact that videos recorded during the flight were published in the media, undermining the air force's superiority in the region.

MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union), a member of the Foreign affairs and Defense Committee, was the only member of the Knesset to criticize the IDF over the incident.

"It is time that the IDF would stop to behave as a spokesman of the Syrian or Egyptian army, turning failure to success," he said. Claiming the incident was a "serious security failure," Ben Ari called to examine "how is it that an enemy drone entered the state without any warning, how is it that it was not shot down immediately and why only when it was over Yatir Forest, deep within Israel, it was brought down."

Jonathan Lis contributed to this report.