Another Hezbollah Drone Shot Down Over Israeli Waters Last Week, Military Says

The announcement follows Saturday's interception of three drones heading toward Israel's Karish gas field in territory that is disputed by Lebanon

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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The Karish gas rig this month.
The Karish offshore gas rig this month.Credit: Energean
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Israel's military said Wednesday evening that it had downed another Hezbollah drone last week that was heading for Israel’s maritime zone.

On Saturday, Israel said it intercepted three Hezbollah drones over the Mediterranean Sea, with security sources estimating that the drones were headed for Israel's Karish gas field in territory that is disputed by Lebanon.

The army said the drones were intercepted by air force planes and a navy ship, which used the Barak-1 system. Military sources said the initial investigation indicates that the drones were not armed and did not endanger the platform.

The fourth drone, the army said, was downed last Wednesday over Lebanon’s territorial waters and did not pose a danger to Israel.

Hezbollah said Saturday that the three drones were launched at the area of the gas field for the purpose of collecting information, adding “The drones accomplished their mission and sent the necessary message to Israel.” Energean, the company operating the Karish natural gas reservoir, said, “The platform is secure and the work routine there was not disrupted.”

The Lebanese government slammed the launching of the drones, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib issuing a joint statement on Monday stating that Hezbollah’s launch of the drones at the Karish gas field was not coordinated with the government. The pair criticized the organization without mentioning it by name, saying that action that goes beyond the diplomatic sphere “is unacceptable and endangers the country for no reason.”

Mikati and Bou Habib noted in their statement that the Lebanese government supports American mediation efforts regarding the maritime border with Israel and called on the U.S. to prevent any violation by Israel of Lebanese sovereignty by air, sea or land. In the past two days, Hezbollah supporters have lambasted the foreign minister for criticizing the launching of the drones in statements made to the Lebanese press. As part of the campaign against him, Hezbollah supporters are calling for Bou Habib to be barred from a position in the new government, claiming that he represents foreign interests, primarily that of the Gulf States.

Security sources said the drones' purpose was “to create a provocation and to disrupt the negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over the two countries’ maritime border.” For the past two years, the countries have been conducting negotiations to determine the maritime border, after the discovery of the natural gas fields in the Mediterranean.

When the platform was installed last month, Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Mikati claimed that Israel “invaded Lebanese resources” and Mikati accused of Israel of trying to set facts in the field, and of actions that could lead to an escalation, adding “that no one knows where it will lead.” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that “Lebanon will not allow Israel to produce gas from the field” and his deputy Naim Qassem said the organization was ready to act “including with force” – against Israeli actions in Lebanese waters “the moment that the Lebanese government sets its policy on the matter.”

Israel responded to the threats from Lebanon by stating clearly that the country would defend the drilling platform. Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who was then the foreign minister and alternate prime minister, announced together with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Energy Minister Karin Elharrar that Israel was prepared to defend the drilling platform and called on Lebanon to reach agreement on the matter at the negotiating table.

“Israel views the safeguarding of its strategic assets with the utmost importance, and is prepared to protect them and the security of its infrastructure,” their joint statement read. They also stressed that “The platform will not pump gas from the disputed area.” Lapid and Gantz added that “Locating gas-based energy sources can be of great help to the Lebanese economy and to the Lebanese people, and it is of supreme interest for Lebanon to advance the dialogue on this matter. We hope that this will happen.”

In recent weeks, Reuters reported that Lebanon is planning to submit a compromise proposal to Israel, in which it would retreat from its demand for a maritime territory that includes the gas field, after President Aoun understood that Lebanon has no legal basis for making a claim to this territory.

An investigation last month by Haaretz also found that the drilling platform is not located within Lebanese territory, but in a location not discussed in the negotiations between the two countries over the past two years – as Israel declared.

Analysis of satellite images from early June, up-to-date location information and documents that Lebanon submitted to the UN for the purpose of the negotiations show that the platform and the drilling ship belonging to the company that operates it are 10 kilometers southwest of the line that Lebanon claims is the boundary of its maritime waters.

Israeli diplomatic and security sources say that Lebanese officials involved in the negotiations have also acknowledged this.

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