The Israel Defense Forces shot down an Iranian-made drone operated by Hezbollah on Tuesday afternoon after the drone entered the demilitarized zone along the border between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights. The Israel Air Force’s aerial defense command fired a Patriot missile and destroyed the drone.
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The interception of the drone took place just hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to speak to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. A large part of his speech is expected to be devoted to Israeli claims concerning Iranian military involvement in Syria.
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The remotely piloted vehicle, intended for intelligence gathering missions, was identified as it took off from Damascus International Airport. It then flew to the southwest toward Israel. When the Air Force’s air defense control center identified the drone entering the demilitarized zone on the Golan, the IDF decided to shoot it down. Fighter jets were scrambled to the area, but did not fire at the drone.
The drone was intercepted by a Patriot missile fired by an anti-aircraft battery located in the Galilee. The drone fell inside Syrian territory in a region controlled by the Assad regime near the city of Quneitra.
The military said that this was not the first time Hezbollah used intelligence-gathering drones against Israel, but added that this time the drone was unusually close to the Israeli border.
IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis told reporters that the military will not allow terrorist groups to penetrate or come near to Israeli territory, in the air or on the ground.
The IDF will act severely and attack against any such actions, said Manelis, adding: “We will respond to every such attempt.” Manelis refused to say whether the drone mission was related to the recent attack in Syria, saying that the IDF “does not comment of foreign reports.”
Hezbollah has sent drones on intelligence gathering missions in the past in southern Syria, but coming this close to Israeli territory was exceptional and so it was decided to shoot down the drone, said Manelis. Entering the demilitarized zone on the Golan is a violation of the Israel-Syria Separation of Forces Agreement from 1974. Israel had no prior intelligence information on Hezbollah intentions to approach the border, he added.
"We managed to take down that drone, and it only goes to show the IDF's preparedness," commented Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. "We will be able to cope with every task and every challenge."
"I want to stress again the high level of preparedness of the IDF, which knows how to handle any surprise, any problem and any threat," Lieberman also said. "As I've said in the past, we don't intend to again suffer from any threats or any attempts to harm the security of the State of Israel. Anyone who tries to harm our sovereignty, to harm our security, should know that they'll pay a heavy price for it – very heavy."
Two weeks ago, foreign media reports claimed that Israeli warplanes struck a chemical arms plant in Syria from Lebanese airspace. The Syrian army's general command confirmed in a statement the attack on what they called a military facility, and said that two people were killed and extensive damage was caused.
In March, the Air Force intercepted an anti-aircraft missile that was fired from Syria at Israeli jets using an Arrow missile for the first time. The decision to shoot down the anti-aircraft missile was made when it became clear it would enter Israeli territory over the Jordan Valley. Syrian air defense forces fired the missile in response to the bombing by Israel of a Syrian facility in the area of Palmyra.
In July 2016, the Israeli military tried unsuccessfully to intercept a Russian remotely piloted vehicle that breached Israeli airspace. The drone entered 4 kilometers into Israeli territory over the Galilee Panhandle before returning to Syria. The Israel Defense Forces tried to shoot down the drone three times – first with two Patriot missiles, and then by a fighter jet, which fired an air-to-air missile at it. But as far as the IDF knows, the drone escaped unscathed and returned to its base.
Shooting down drones is to considered to be a relatively difficult mission because they are rather small targets. Hezbollah and Russian drones have penetrated Israeli airspace a number of times in the past. The first time, the Israeli Air Force intercepted to drones carrying explosives, known as suicide drones, made by Iran during the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006.