Drone Expert Concerned by Failure to Shoot Down UAV That Penetrated Israeli Airspace

Drone penetrated a distance of four kilometers inside Israel; one of two Patriot interception missiles exploded midair.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Trails of a Patriot missile that was fired on a drone in northern Israel, July 17, 2016.
Trails of a Patriot missile that was fired on a drone in northern Israel, July 17, 2016.Credit: Safed municipality
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

An expert on drones has expressed concern over Israel’s inability to shoot down an unmanned aerial vehicle that penetrated the country’s airspace on Sunday, and warned that Israel should expect more drones in the future.

The drone entered Israeli airspace over the central Golan Heights on Sunday afternoon. The air force unsuccessfully tried to intercept it three times, firing two Patriot missiles from a battery located in the north, and then scrambling fighter jets to shoot it down with an air-to-air missile.

“Hermetic defense does not exist, and various devices could very well penetrate [Israeli airspace],” said Tal Inbar, head of the Space and UAV Research Center at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies. “It is not easy to shoot down drones because of their size, speed and the materials they are made from, which make detection difficult,” he added.

Inbar noted that a threat from drones clearly exists in Israel. In a large-scale conflict with rockets flying around, it can definitely expect further attempts at drone infiltration, he added.

Addressing Sunday’s incident, he noted that it occurred “under sterile conditions, which will not exist on the battlefield. ... You try to intercept and fail – and it doesn’t matter whether it’s for a technological or operational reason, that’s not good,” said Inbar.

The Israel Defense Forces did not provide information on the type of drone involved or who was behind it. The UAV eventually turned and went into Syria, the army believes.

A number of questions still remain concerning the incident: Why did the attempts to intercept the drone fail, especially the air-to-air missile fired by a fighter plane? The IDF did not supply any information about how long the drone spent in Israeli airspace, but Haaretz learned it penetrated a distance of four kilometers (2.5 miles) inside the Israeli border.

It seems one of the Patriot missiles exploded in midair, with the resultant shrapnel falling on Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar and injuring a girl.

The IDF said the warning sirens that went off in a number of communities on the Golan – near Kibbutz Ein Zivan, Kibbutz Merom Golan and Keshet – were part of the regular procedure in communities close to the Syrian border. These do not include places farther to the west such as Ayelet Hashahar, where the girl was hurt.

This is not the first time the air defense system has failed to intercept drones that penetrated Israeli airspace and flew inside the country. In 2012, a drone entered Israel from the Gaza Strip and was only shot down many kilometers away, over Yatir Forest. The IDF said at the time it did not want to shoot it down over a populated area and possibly cause injury or damage. Israel also shot down two drones launched by Hezbollah and that entered Israeli airspace during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

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