Israel intercepted three Hezbollah drones over the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday, said Israeli military sources, who believe the drones were headed for the Karish gas field in territory that is disputed by Lebanon.
Three Hezbollah UAVs were identified at around 3:00 P.M., and were shot down by fighter jets and the Israeli Navy's Barak interception system. The military believes that the drones were not armed, and did not pose a risk.
The sources believe that the drones were on their way to the disputed Karish gas field before they were shot down a few dozen miles from the site.
Later on Saturday, Hezbollah released a statement taking responsibility for the drones, saying that the organization launched three unarmed UAVs to the disputed territory near the Karish field "for intelligence gathering purposes."
Their statement continued, "The drones carried out their intended mission and also sent the intended message to the Israeli side."
Lebanon claimed that Israel violated its maritime sovereignty and “invaded its marine resources" when it stationed a gas rig in the Karish field last month, while Israel claims that the rig's location is not in the zone under dispute, nor subject to the negotiations that have been taking place between the two countries over the maritime border since October 2020.
They were intended to provoke Israel there, the IDF believes. The British-Greek company Energean, which owns the Karish-Tanin gas fields, was updated about the situation. It released a statement Saturday night saying that the field is secured and that its routine work was not affected. The company expressed full faith in Israel and its security establishment.
Lebanon was preparing last month to offer a compromise to U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein to resolve a dispute with Israel over maritime gas resources, three Lebanese officials with knowledge of the negotiations told Reuters, effectively relinquishing its claims over the Karish gas field.
Hochstein met with Lebanese and Israeli officials in past weeks, and has expressed optimism about next steps.
According to the IDF sources, the launch of the drones was an attempt to disrupt these negotiations as well as the stability in the area. They added that all three drones were different, and that they flew at low altitude and low speed.
Last month, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened that his group has the "capacity to prevent" Israel from extracting gas from a field that Lebanon describes as disputed waters between the two countries.
Nasrallah, the head of the Iran-backed Shi'ite militant group, said that "all options are on the table," and that Hezbollah is "not afraid of war," amid Lebanese ire over the drilling rig in Karish gas field.
Ben Samuels contributed to this report.