Israel shoots down drone from Lebanon, Israeli Military says


An Israeli fighter plane shot down a drone from Lebanon over the Mediterranean sea on Thursday as it was approaching the Israeli coast, the military said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was flying in a military helicopter to an event in northern Israel when the unmanned aircraft was spotted along the Lebanese coast by Israeli air defences. His helicopter landed briefly until the interception was completed.

There was no indication from Israeli officials who provided information about the incident that Israel suspected any connection between the dispatch of the drone and Netanyahu's flight, whose details had not been made public.

“I view with great gravity this attempt to violate our border. We will continue to do what is necessary to defend the security of Israel's citizens,” Netanyahu said in a speech at his destination, a Druze village where he met community leaders.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the alleged aerial infiltration.

Asked whether Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese guerrilla group that sent a drone into southern Israel in October, was behind the incident, a military spokesman said an investigation was under way and the navy was trying to salvage wreckage from the aircraft.

“On my way here, in a helicopter, I found out there was an infiltration attempt by a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) into Israeli air space,” Netanyahu said in the Druze village of Julis, some 15 km (9 miles) from the Lebanese border.

“Within a short time, Israeli pilots intercepted this aircraft and shot it down over the sea.”

The military said the unmanned aerial vehicle was detected in Lebanese skies and intercepted by a F-16 fighter jet some 5 nautical miles west of the Israeli port city of Haifa.

A military spokesman said the drone had been flying at an altitude of about 6,000 feet and had been monitored by Israel for about an hour before it was destroyed by an air-to-air missile.

“We don't know where the aircraft was coming from and we don't know where it was actually going,” the spokesman said.

In the incident in October, a Hezbollah drone flew some 35 miles into southern Israel before being shot down by an F-16.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a war in 2006, and Lebanon has complained to the United Nations about frequent Israeli overflights, apparently to monitor the group's activities.

On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel would not permit “sophisticated weapons” to fall into the hands of Hezbollah “or other rogue elements” in Syria's civil war.

“When they crossed this red line, we acted,” Yaalon said at a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in comments widely interpreted as confirming reports that an Israeli air strike in Syria in January had targeted a Hezbollah-bound arms convoy. (Editing by Alison Williams)

Netanyahu says Hezbollah sent drone downed over Israel


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday a drone aircraft, which flew some 35 miles into Israel before being shot down last weekend, was sent by Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.

In a statement from his office, Netanyahu said during a tour of the southern frontier with Egypt that Israel would “act with determination to defend its borders”, just as “we thwarted over the weekend Hezbollah's attempt” to penetrate Israeli airspace.

Under surveillance by Israeli fighter jets, it was shot down on Saturday over a forest near the occupied West Bank. Defence officials did not, at the time, directly accuse Hezbollah – who fought an inconclusive war with Israel in 2006 – of sending it.

On at least one previous occasion, Hezbollah has launched a drone into Israel across its northern border with Lebanon. And in 2010, an Israeli warplane shot down an apparently unmanned balloon near the Dimona nuclear reactor in southern Israel.

The Israeli military released a 10-second video clip of what it said was Saturday's mid-air interception. In the video, a small, unidentified aircraft is seen moments before being destroyed by a missile fired from a fighter jet.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Louise Ireland

Hezbollah claims responsibility for drone that entered Israeli airspace


Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged on Thursday sending a drone aircraft that was shot down last weekend after flying some 25 miles into Israel.

Nasrallah said in a televised speech that the drone's parts were manufactured in Iran and it was assembled by members of the Shi'ite Muslim militant movement in Lebanon. He confirmed a statement by Israel's prime minister earlier in the day saying that Hezbollah was behind the drone flight.

“The resistance in Lebanon sent a sophisticated reconnaissance aircraft from Lebanon…It penetrated the enemy's iron procedures and entered occupied southern Palestine,” Nasrallah said. Hezbollah does not recognize the state of Israel.

Tensions have increased in the region with Israel threatening to bomb the nuclear sites of Hezbollah's patron Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to stop Iranian nuclear activity the West suspects is meant to develop a weapons capability. Tehran says it is seeking only civilian nuclear energy.

Iran has threatened in turn to attack U.S. military bases in the Middle East and retaliate against Israel if attacked.

Seeking to underline that Hezbollah was capable of reaching targets well inside Israel, Nasrallah said the drone “flew over sensitive installations inside southern Palestine and was shot down in an area near the Dimona nuclear reactor”.

Iran said the incursion exposed the weakness of Israeli air defense, indicating that Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defense system “does not work and lacks the necessary capacity”. The Iron Dome system, jointly funded with Washington, is designed to down short-range guerrilla rockets, not slow-flying aircraft.

Hezbollah last fought Israel in 2006 during a 34-day war in which 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.

Since that war, Hezbollah has a number of times suggested it had expanded its arsenal in an apparent strategy of deterrence.

Hezbollah is also an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is fighting to put down a 19-month-old uprising that has turned into a civil war with sectarian dimensions, largely pitting the majority Sunni Muslims against Assad's minority Alawite community, who are an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Nasrallah has explicitly expressed political support for Assad, whose opponents have accused Hezbollah of sending fighters to help the Syrian leader quell the insurgency.

Nasrallah denied such accusations. “We have not fought alongside the regime until now. The regime did not ask us to do so and also who says that doing so is in Lebanon's interest?”

Earlier this month Hezbollah buried two of its fighters who local sources said were killed near a Syrian border town. Hezbollah acknowledged the death of only one fighter and said he was a commander who “died while performing his jihad duties”. It did not elaborate. Nasrallah said on Thursday that he was killed in a roadside bomb in a town near the Syrian border.

Last month, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Nasrallah for what it said was support given to Assad against anti-government protests, as well as two other members for the group's “terrorist activities” in general.

Editing by Mark Heinrich