Iranian experts on unmanned airborne vehicles (drones) from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards took part in the launch from Lebanon of a Hezbollah drone that spent several minutes over northern Israel earlier this week.
Apparently, the drone carried a camera capable of transmitting images while the plane is in motion. On Monday, Hezbollah's television channel, Al-Manar, aired footage of what it said was the drone it had sent into Israel.
The first launch of an Iranian drone by Hezbollah ended with the plane crashing on its way back to Lebanon.
The Iranian activity can be regarded as a clear-cut case of aggression against Israel. On Tuesday, Iran announced that it can manufacture large quantities of the medium-range Shihab-3 missile, which is believed to be capable of hitting Israel.
What makes the drone incident unusual is that Iranian military experts from the Revolutionary Guards sent their people to a third country to act against Israel. Their support for Palestinian terror groups was usually done with money or weapons. In this case, Iranians were involved directly in launching the drone and preparing it for its mission.
Lebanon also cannot wash its hands of the affair and pretend innocence. It is possible the Lebanese did not know about the activity and the preparations and did not know about the Iranian involvement, but since it took place on Lebanese territory, the Lebanese government is directly responsible for the act of aggression. Its arguments won't hold water if Israel decides to react to similar incidents in the future.
The drone was Iranian made. It was developed and built in Iranian plants in the 1990s. The aircraft is considered technologically very simple, with a pre-programmed route that is installed before launch. During the flight, a camera sends images back to a ground station, which was supposedly manned by Iranians, and the plane is apparently supposed to land by parachute.
The Iranians supplied several such planes to the Hezbollah, just as they supplied rockets. One of the Iranian conditions for the supply of the drones was that Hezbollah get clearance from Tehran before any launch.
The Hezbollah operatives were trained in the use of the plane by experts from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
The launch and other military activity shows Iranians are in Lebanon, under the patronage and cover of Hezbollah, doing whatever they want.
Syria continues to maintain military units in Lebanon while Lebanon operates through the Revolutionary Guards and other bodies.
Lately, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has bragged that his organization can restrain Israel in the aerial sphere. He declared Hezbollah would change the aerial-military equation.
It is reasonable to assume he had received surface-to-air missiles from either Syria or Iran. Clearly, the existence of a few drones will not change the balance of power in the air with Israel, even if the drones can penetrate Israel much deeper, and even if they carry cameras or even explosives.
The drone penetration certainly surprised Israel's air defenses and lessons can be expected to be learned from the incident.
The Israel Air Force and its radar system should have no problem dealing with the Hezbollah drones and should set a price that Hezbollah and Lebanon will pay for such incursions.
Another lesson is that if Iran is ready to take the risk with such a direct involvement, it could slide into even riskier moves.
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