India turns to Israel for armed drones as Pakistan, China build fleets


India has accelerated plans to buy drones from Israel that can be armed, defence sources said, allowing the military to carry out strikes overseas with less risk to personnel.

The news comes weeks after long-time rival Pakistan first reported using a home-made drone in combat when it attacked militants on its soil, raising the prospect of a new front in the nuclear-armed neighbours' standoff over Kashmir that has twice spilled into war.

The plan to acquire Israeli Herons was first conceived three years ago, but in January the military wrote to the government asking for speedy delivery, the sources said, as Pakistan and China develop their own drone warfare capabilities.

India has already deployed Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) along the rugged mountains of Kashmir for surveillance, as well as on the disputed border with China where the two armies have faced off against each other.

In September, the Indian government approved the air force's request to acquire 10 Heron TP drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) that can be fitted with weapons to engage targets on the ground, an air force official with knowledge of the matter said.

He added that he expected the agreement to be inked soon. The Indian Defence Ministry declined to comment.

The plan to buy Herons in a deal estimated at $400 million would open the option of covert cross-border strikes.

Currently the two armies exchange fire across the de facto Kashmir border at times of tension, but do not cross the Line of Control (LoC) by land or air.

“It's risky, but armed UAVs can be used for counter insurgency operations internally as well across the borders; sneak attacks on terrorist hideouts in mountainous terrain, perhaps,” said an army officer in the defence planning staff.

“DEEP-STRIKE CAPABILITY”

Gurmeet Kanwal, a former head of the government-funded Centre for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, said the armed Herons due to enter Indian service by late 2016 will give the air force deep-strike capability.

The United States has carried out hundreds of drone strikes inside Pakistan, targeting al Qaeda and other militants in its northwest. Pakistan has allowed such targeted killings, even though it complains about them in public.

Indian drones, in contrast, face being shot down as soon as they show up on Pakistani radars, the army officer and Kanwal said.

Deniability would be essential in any use of armed drones by India and Pakistan across their bitterly contested border, said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a leading weapons proliferation expert in Pakistan.

“It is likely that drones would be used in a surreptitious mode close to the LoC, far away from populated areas,” he said.

In July, the Pakistan army said it had shot down a small Indian spy drone in Kashmir. India did not comment.

Michael Kugelman, South Asia specialist at the Washington D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said the arrival of lethal drones in the region could heighten mutual suspicion at a time when ties are strained.

“Pakistan might worry that India could use an armed drone to attack terrorist safe havens in Pakistan or to target a specific terrorist there.”

“India might worry that Pakistan will now be tempted to add drones to its repertoire of asymmetric warfare tactics it has used against India.”

Only the United States, Israel and Britain are known to have used armed drones in combat, although more than 70 countries have UAVs with surveillance capabilities, according to New America, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank.

China has no public strategy for armed drone development, but it has poured resources into UAVs and has shown them off at exhibitions. Chinese combat drones still lag far behind the Israeli-made ones in terms of capability, military experts say.

LOCAL MANUFACTURE?

A delegation from state-owned IAI has been holding talks with the Indian defence ministry to determine the possibility of local manufacture of the Heron TP as part of the “Make-in-India” programme, IHS Jane's said.

Israel does not confirm or deny using or producing armed drones. IAI declined comment on the proposed sale of the Herons, as did Israel's Defence Ministry, which oversees such arms exports.

IAI is one of several Israeli companies manufacturing drones or related technologies.

At least one of them has sold armed drones to a foreign country other than India, a person involved in the deal said, without elaborating on the client, model or manufacturer of the aircraft.

Such deals are handled directly between the governments of Israel and the purchasing country, with mutual secrecy agreements, the person added.

It is not clear what kind of weapons will be fitted to the Heron TPs that India plans to buy.

India has been trying to develop its own combat drone, but the defence research organisation has struggled to integrate a missile onto the proposed Rustom series of UAVs.

David Harari, a retired IAI engineer and Israel Prize winner for his pioneering work in drone development, said India could mount its own weaponry on an Israeli supplied drone, helped by close technological cooperation between the two countries.

Israel shoots down UAV sent from Gaza


Israel shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle launched from Gaza after it crossed into Israel’s airspace.

The drone was shot down Monday morning by a Patriot missile near the port of Ashdod.

The drone set off sirens in Ashdod before it was shot down. It is not known if the UAV was carrying explosives. Hamas told Reuters that it has sent several drones into Israel to carry out what it called “special missions.”

Later on Monday morning, an 8-year-old Israel boy was wounded by shrapnel from a rocket fired from Gaza that landed in Ashdod.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Monday said that Israel continues “to smash Hamas and its infrastructure. They have suffered great damage.”

“When Hamas comes out of their hiding places they will discover the extent of the destruction and the damage that we caused the organization that will cause them to regret that they entered this round of fighting against Israel,” he told an IDF briefing.

Also on Monday, several rockets were fired from Lebanon into northern Israel. The IDF responded with artillery fired toward the source of the rocket launch. Israel has notified the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or  UNIFIL, of the incident, according to the IDF.

The IDF targeted over 12 terrorists involved in launching rockets at Israel on Sunday night and Monday morning, and Israel Air Force planes bombed more than 40 “terror sites” in Gaza overnight, according to a statement from the IDF.  On Sunday, more than 130 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, 22 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and more than 100 landed on Israeli territory, according to the IDF.

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge seven days ago, more than 980 rockets have been launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel. About 760 have hit Israeli territory, and another 200 have been intercepted by Iron Dome. IDF forces have struck some 1,470 terror targets across the Gaza Strip.

At least 172 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and more than 1,200 wounded since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency.

On Sunday, the IDF allowed into Gaza over 500 donated portions of blood for civilians in Gaza. In addition, the IDF has facilitated the transfer into Gaza for its civilians 260 trucks containing over 4,400 tons of food, as well as about 900 tons of gas, about 3.2 million liters of diesel fuel and about 500 thousand liters of gasoline, according to the IDF.

Israel is the leader in producing drones


This story originally ran on themedialine.org.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) are being used in conflicts all over the world, and military analysts say their use is only expected to increase. With the clear advantage of not needing pilots, who can be shot down or captured, sophisticated drones can perform many of the same tasks as manned aircraft.

“The Heron, made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) can carry several payloads at the same time — it’s a multi-mission multi-payload UAV,” Dan Bichman, a consultant for IAI and a reserve pilot in the Israeli Airforce told The Media Line as he proudly showed off the large drone. “Once I’m in the air, I can carry simultaneously 4 or 5 different payloads, and I can conduct a mission using all of them at the same time which is very unique in the UAV world. Another advantage is that I can stay in the air for up to 50 hours.”

Bichman said the US, France and Germany are all using Israeli-made Herons in Afghanistan to fly spy missions. He said several other countries have bought the systems, but he refused to give details.

He was speaking at a recent UAV conference in this Tel Aviv suburb, where more than 1500 drone buyers and sellers came together. They came to watch live demonstrations, meet with manufacturers, and compare prices. There was a significant representation from Asia, especially China and Singapore, although both journalists and buyers refused to be interviewed.

“This is the first international conference in the world that shows in one place unmanned systems in the air, on the ground, and on water,” Arieh Egozi, the editor of the IhLS, Israel Homeland Security website and the conference organizer told The Media Line. “Israel is a superpower in unmanned systems. They started with unmanned aerial systems and they have been flying now for more than 40 years.”

IAI announced that its systems have accumulated more than one million operational flight hours.

He said that Israel, which is the leading manufacturer in the world of UAV systems, has a range of systems.

“Israel has developed some systems as small as a butterfly, and others, like the Heron TP, which has a wingspan of 37 meters, which is like a Boeing 737,” Egozi said.

He stood in front of a large vehicle called an Air Mule, currently under development.

“The job of this system is to bring water and ammunition to the front line, and to evacuate wounded soldiers,” he said. “In the Lebanon war (of 2006) a helicopter was shot down when it tried to rescue wounded soldiers. If you use unmanned systems you don’t endanger any pilots.” 

These systems do not come cheap. Israel’s defense exports last year topped 10 billion dollars. Some of the larger drones cost several million dollars depending on what kind of cameras they are fitted with. At the Israeli booths offering systems for sale, former generals abound.

“We are a start-up company and we have developed a revolutionary vehicle called the Hovermast,” Gabi Shachor, a retired air force general and CEO of Skysapience told The Media Line. “It sits on a vehicle and with the push of a button the doors open and the Hovermast rises up to 50 meters. Within seconds you get real time video into your vehicle. Because it’s tethered to a vehicle by cable, it can stay up as long as you like – six hours or two days.”

He says the Israeli army has bought two systems for operational evaluations and his company are currently selling more, at about one million per system.

“If you buy a lot, I can give you a very good price,” he says laughing.

He says Israel sees the future of combat in UAVs.

“Israel is already leading in this area and UAV’s will do more and more of what is done today by manned platforms,” he said. “There’s no risk, since there’s no pilot. You can stay airborne for a long time. A pilot can’t stay up that long.”

Looking around the conference hall, there were very few women in evidence. Ofra Bechor, a field application engineer for Green Hills software, a US company which has a branch in Israel, says the UAV field is dominated by men.

“Software and defense are fields that have a lot of men,” she told The Media Line. “I’ve never been discriminated against because I’m a woman but I have been ignored when there are men around.”

The Torah of drones: Examining the complex morality of drone warfare


In 2009, an Israeli drone flying over the Gaza Strip transmitted back to its command station an image of a telltale rocket trail streaking toward Israeli territory. Many kilometers away, a young Israeli operator, Capt. Y, quickly maneuvered the unmanned aircraft to get a look at the young Palestinian who had just launched the deadly missile. Y’s drone squadron already had authorization to take him out. In an instant, a rocket struck the hidden launch site, followed by a flash of fire.

When the smoke cleared, Y saw images of the shooter lying flat on the ground. Twenty seconds passed. And then Y saw something even more remarkable — the dead man began to move.

Severely wounded, the Palestinian began to claw his way toward the road. Y could clearly see the man’s face, and in his youth and determination Y must have recognized something of himself. So, now Y and his team had a decision to make: Would they let the wounded terrorist escape, or circle the drone back and finish him off?

Y told me this story in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. He is 23, wiry and intense. When I arrived for our interview, arranged through the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Y was sitting in a small atrium, getting in a last smoke.

For security reasons, I cannot use his real name, so I agreed to refer to the captain as Y, and to his fellow drone operator, a lieutenant, as M.

M is calmer. She is 25, has large blue eyes and wears her blond hair pulled back into a ponytail — Scarlett Johansson’s tougher twin sister.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, as drones are otherwise known, have been in use militarily since World War I. In 1917, the Americans designed the Kettering “Bug” with a preset gyroscope to guide it into enemy trenches. In World War II, the Nazis deployed “the Fritz,” a 2,300-pound bomb with four small wings and a tail motor. But it is only in the past few years that UAVs have made almost-daily headlines. These days, the United States, in particular, has widely employed UAVs in the far reaches of Pakistan and Afghanistan in its fight against terrorists. As recently as Nov. 1, a U.S. drone strike killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, demonstrating once again the deadly effectiveness of, and the growing reliance upon, these weapons of war.

But like all revolutionary new weapons, this success comes at a price, and it’s a price we in America prefer not to check. Just a day before I met with the two Israelis in late October, two influential human rights groups released reports asserting that the number of civilian deaths resulting from America’s largely secret “drone wars” was far greater than the government had claimed. Human Rights Watch reported that since 2009, America’s anti-terrorist drone strikes in Yemen had killed at least 57 civilians — more than two-thirds of all casualties resulting from the strikes — including a pregnant woman and three children. In Pakistan, Amnesty International found that more than 30 civilians had died from U.S. drone strikes between May 2012 and July 2013 in the territory of North Waziristan.

To Americans, news of anonymous civilians dying in faraway places may not resonate deeply, even if we are the ones who killed them. But these two humanitarian groups’ reports point to the rapid increase in the United States’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles as weapons of war, and they underline the lack of clear international ethical codes to guide that use.

Who gets to use drones? How do commanders decide whom to target, whom to spy on? If a drone operator sitting in a command room in Tampa, Fla., can kill a combatant in Swat, in northern Pakistan, does that make downtown Tampa a legitimate military target, as well?

I wanted to learn more about the morality of this advancing technology, so I talked to people who have studied drones, who have thought about their ethical implications, and who, like Y and M, actually use them. I hoped that through them I might come to understand how we, as a society, should think about the right way to use these remarkable, fearsome tools. 

I wanted to know if there exists, in essence, a Torah of drones.

From 12,000 feet up, the Heron drone Capt. Y was piloting that day during Operation Pillar of Defense offered a perfect view of the wounded Palestinian.

“You see everything,” Y told me. “You could see him lying on the ground, moving and crawling. Even if you know he’s the enemy, it’s very hard to see that. You see a human being who is helpless. You have to bear in mind, ‘He’s trying to kill me.’ But, in my mind, I hoped somebody would go help him.”

Y’s father is French, and his mother is Israeli. He lives in Beersheba, where his wife is a medical student. Y’s brother was killed in the Second Lebanon War by a Hezbollah rocket while he was piloting a Yasur combat helicopter. Y was 18 at the time.

“I believe some of the way to mourn is to go through the same experience of the man you loved,” Y said.

Lt. M’s parents both are French immigrants to Israel, staunch Zionists, and, she said, she always knew one day she’d be an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer.

In Israel, those who cannot complete pilot-training very often enter the drone corps. It may not hold the cachet of becoming an Air Force pilot, but both of these soldiers believe drones are the future.

“I like the idea that every flight you do, you’re helping your fellow citizens,” M said.

“We feel we contribute more than other people,” Y said. “But today, in the modern day, you don’t have to take risks. If you risk your life, it doesn’t mean you contribute more.”

In the United States and Israel, where the reluctance to put boots on the ground is at a high point, the fact that drones offer significant military capabilities with far less risk accounts precisely for the tremendous increase in their use.

Israel, in fact, has led the way. Its effective use of drones during the 1982 Lebanon War rekindled American interest in UAVs. During America’s first Gulf War, in 1991, the U.S. Navy bought a secondhand Pioneer drone from Israel and used it to better aim heavy artillery. At one point during that war, a squad of Iraqi soldiers saw a drone overhead and, expecting to be bombarded, waved a white sheet. It was the first time in history soldiers had surrendered to a drone.

Today, the United States increasingly uses drones for both civilian intelligence — as in Yemen and Pakistan — and militarily. Currently, some 8,000 UAVs are in use by the U.S. military. In the next decade, U.S. defense spending on drones is expected to reach $40 billion, increasing inventory by 35 percent. Since 2002, 400 drone strikes have been conducted by U.S. civilian intelligence agencies. 

At least 87 other countries also have drones. Earlier this year, Israel announced it was decommissioning two of its combat helicopter squadrons — to replace them with drones.

“We’re at the very start of this technological revolution,” Peter Singer, author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century,” told me by phone. “We’re in the World War I period of robotics. The cat’s out of the bag. You’re not going to roll it back. But you do want to set norms.”

Singer’s book, first published in 2009 when the public debate over drone ethics was nonexistent, is still the best road map to a future we all have reason to fear, but must face, in any case.

I called Singer to see where he stands on the ethical issues raised by civilian drone deaths.

Actually, he pointed out, his book dealt largely with military use of these technologies. Even he wouldn’t have predicted such widespread use of drones by surveillance agencies that are unversed in the rules of war and that operate without the safeguards built into military actions.

That, for Singer and others who parse the ethics of drones, is the rub. In the military, there are rules of engagement. There is the risk of court-martial. Strategic training is better in the military than in intelligence agencies.

“One group goes to war college,” Singer said, “the other doesn’t. And it’s very different when you’re a political appointee, rather than a military officer. Some tactics would not be allowed in a military operation.”

I asked Singer for an example. He chose one from the CIA operations just now under scrutiny by human rights groups.

“Double-tapping,” he said. “That would never make its way past a military officer.”

Double-tapping is when an aircraft, manned or not, circles back over a targeted site and strikes a second time — either to finish off the wounded or to take out forces that have rushed in to help. Exactly the ethical question Capt. Y. faced.

When Y saw that he hadn’t killed the Palestinian the first time, he and his team faced one of the most difficult, urgent questions of drone combat: Should they double-tap?

Ethical issues in drone combat come up all the time, M said — in training, in operations and, afterward, in frequent debriefing and analysis.

“I have so many examples of that, I can’t count,” Y told me.

A landmark Israeli Supreme Court decision on targeted killing provides the ethical framework for IDF drone operators.

In 2009, the court found there is nothing inherently wrong with a targeted killing — whether by an F-16, Apache helicopter or unmanned drone.

But, the court added, in order for the action to be acceptable, the soldiers must satisfy three questions:

The first is, what is a legitimate target? The target, the court said, must be an operational combatant seeking to do you harm — not a retired terrorist or someone you want to punish for past sins.

Second, has the target met the threshold level of intelligence? The drone team must have a deep knowledge that its target meets the first condition, verified by more than one source.

Finally, who is the supervising body? There must be independent oversight outside the hands of the drone operators and the IDF.

To professor Moshe Halbertal, these three conditions form the basis for the moral exercise of deadly drone force.

Halbertal is a professor of Jewish philosophy at Hebrew University, the Gruss Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law and one of the drafters of the IDF’s code of ethics.

Shortly before Halbertal came to Los Angeles to serve as scholar-in-residence Nov. 1-3 at Sinai Temple, I spoke with him about Israel’s experience with drones. From what he could tell, he said, Israel has a more developed ethical framework.

In the American attacks, Halbertal said, “The level of collateral damage is alarming.”

In Israel, he said, “There is a genuine attempt to reduce collateral killing. If this were the level of collateral damage the IDF produces, it would be very bad.”

The fact that drones are less risky is not what makes their use more prone to excesses, Halbertal said.

“Because military operations involve more risk, there is more care in applying them,” Halbertal said. “But, on the other hand, soldiers make mistakes out of fear in the heat of combat that drone operators don’t.”

The danger with drones, he said, is that because the political risks of deploying them, versus deploying live troops, are much less, they can be used more wantonly.

I asked Capt. Y if he’d had experience with collateral damage.

“It’s happened to me,” he said. “We had a target and asked [intelligence officers] if there were civilians in the area. We received a negative. Later, we heard in the Palestinian press that there were casualties. We checked, and it was true — a father and his 17-year-old son. What can we do? I didn’t have a particular emotion about it.”

The people who know the people getting killed do have emotions about it. And that grief and anger can work to undo whatever benefits drone kills confer.

“I say every drone attack kills one terrorist and creates two,” Adnan Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, told me. In the Swat Valley, where he lives, the fear of American drones and the innocent lives they’ve taken has been one of the extremists’ best recruiting tools, Rashid said.

If that’s the case, better oversight and clearer rules for drones may be not just the right thing to do but in our self-interest as well.

No war is ever clean. But that doesn’t mean drone use should increase without the implementation of the kind of national, and international, norms Singer now finds lacking.

If the United States doesn’t adopt the kinds of oversight Israel already has in place, at the very least, Singer believes, we should move the drone program from the intelligence agencies to the military. 

It’s a call that has increasingly vocal support from America to Pakistan. Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, argued Congress could exercise better oversight of a drone program operated by the military.

 “Since when is the intelligence agency supposed to be an Air Force of drones that goes around killing people?” McCain said recently on Fox News. “I believe that it’s a job for the Department of Defense.”

Pakistani protesters from United Citizen Action shout anti-U.S. slogans during a protest against the Nov. 1 killing of Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone strike. Photo by S.S. Mirza/AFP Photo/Newscom

 “The killing is creating more anger and resulting in the recruitment of more people to pursue revenge,” former Pakistani Minister of State Shahzad Waseem told me. “The minimum you can do is to come up openly with some kind of treaty or set of rules to give it a legal shape, mutually accepted by all sides.” 

Will Americans rise up to make a stink over this? That may be a tall order for a populace that seems to take each revelation of intelligence community overreach — from drone deaths to National Security Agency spying — with a collective yawn. Will the international community begin to create a framework that at least sets standards for drone use and misuse? 

Unfortunately, humans, particularly in developing technology, have a way of advancing faster on the battlefront than on the legal or moral fronts. It took the Holocaust, Singer pointed out, for humanity to come up with the Geneva Conventions of 1949. What fresh hell must befall us before we at least attempt to codify behavior for the Age of Drones?

And even if we set standards and nations abide by them, it seems inevitable that the very nature of drones one day will allow non-state actors — the likes of al-Qaeda — to follow the lead of Hezbollah in using them, as well.

If, in the 1940s and ’50s, the best and the brightest scientific minds went into nuclear physics — and gave us the atomic bomb — these days, those talents are all going toward artificial intelligence. At the high end, a future filled with autonomous, intelligent killing drones awaits us.

At the low end, consider this: Singer also serves as a consultant for the video game “Call of Duty,” for which he was asked to envision a homemade drone of the not-too-distant future. He and others came up with a Sharper Image toy helicopter, controlled by an iPad and mounted with an Uzi. A promotional team actually made a fully functional version of this weapon for a YouTube video, and 17 million hits later, the Defense Department telephoned, perturbed.

“Unlike battleships or atomic bombs,” Singer told me, “the barriers to entry for drones are really low.”

That doesn’t mean we should give up on establishing ethical norms for nations — or people — but we do need to keep our expectations in check.

We may be heading toward a world of what Halbertal describes, in the Israeli context, as “micro wars,” where each human is empowered with military-like capacity and must make his or her own ethical choices on the spot.

Cap. Y made his own moral choice that day during Operation Pillar of Defense. He watched as the wounded Palestinian man managed to get to the road, where a group of civilians came to his aid.

Why didn’t Y “double-tap”?

 “He was no longer a threat,” Y told me, matter-of-factly. “And several people gathered around him who weren’t part of the attack.” That was that: The rules of engagement were clear.

In a micro-war, a soldier in combat — not just generals at a central command — must determine in the heat of battle who is a terrorist and who is a civilian, who shall live and who shall die.

In his book, Singer envisions a future in which artificial intelligence will also enable us to provide ethical decision-making to the machines we create. It would be our job to program Torah into these machines — and then let them do with it as they will.

Much like Someone has done with us.

Iran has photos of Israeli restricted areas, lawmaker says


An Iranian lawmaker said that Iran has photos of Israeli military bases and other restricted areas.

Esmail Kowsari, chairman of the Iranian Parliament's defense committee, told the Iranian Arabic-language Al-Alam that a drone that breached Israeli airspace earlier this month transmitted photos of restricted Israeli military sites before it was shot down, Reuters reported, citing Iran's Mehr news agency.

Israeli troops shot down the unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, on Oct. 6 over the Negev Desert after it entered Israeli airspace near the Mediterranean Sea. The drone was launched from Lebanon in a cooperation between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah, the Sunday Times of London reported at the time, citing unnamed sources.

Israeli military downs drone over Negev


The Israeli Air Force shot down a drone that entered Israeli airspace.

The unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, was intercepted and shot down over the northern Negev on Saturday morning in an unpopulated area, according to the Israel Defense Forces. It had entered Israeli airspace from the Mediterranean.

IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said the aircraft was identified before entering Israeli airspace and was downed in accordance with a decision of the IDF's top leaders.

The drone flew over the Gaza Strip but did not originate from there, the IDF said. The Israeli media reported that it could have originated in Lebanon, which in previous years has sent drones into Israeli airspace.

The UAV reportedly was not carrying explosives and may have been a surveillance drone.

Israeli soldiers were searching for the debris in order to identify from where the drone originated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night praised the IDF.

Israel reportedly flies over Lebanon in possible response to airspace violation


Several Israeli warplanes violated Lebanon’s airspace Oct. 7, according to Lebanese media outlets, flying over the country’s southern region and setting off sonic booms in a possible response to an Oct. 6 violation of Israeli airspace by an unmanned drone which Israel has speculated was launched by Hezbollah.

Residents in the eastern area of south Lebanon told Lebanon-based The Daily Star that Israel Air Force jets flew over their areas at a low altitude, while Lebanese security sources said the warplanes covered the entire region.

The jets, which were reportedly accompanied by several helicopters, also reached the airspace over the coastal city of Sidon, the sources said.

On Oct. 6, an Israel Air Force F-16i fighter jet shot down a foreign unmanned aerial vehicle over the Hebron Hills on after it had hovered over Israeli territory for half an hour, raising questions about who sent it and for what purpose.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson refused to comment on the origin or mission of the drone, though foreign media outlets speculated that it was shot down due to its proximity to Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.

The UAV was identified and monitored by the army before it had crossed into Israeli territory from the Mediterranean Sea and Gaza Strip, according to the IDF spokesperson. It is believed that the drone was not launched from Gaza.

IAF F-16i’s were scrambled to the drone’s location and followed it until the order to shoot it down was given. Based on the size of the explosion from the drone's interception, the IDF believes that it did not carry explosives, and that its purpose was likely to gather intelligence.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the IDF for its management of the incident. “We will continue to defend our borders at sea, land and air to protect the citizens of Israel,” he said.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel for what he called the “swift and precise” tracking and shooting down of the UAV. “We take this attempt to violate Israel's air space very seriously and are weighing our options for a response.”

IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai emphasized that “throughout its flight over Israel the drone was in constant eye-sight of air and ground forces” and noted that the drone was shot down “for the sake of the northern Negev residents’ safety.”

Soldiers were deployed to the area to collect the debris from the destroyed aircraft.

The IDF, meanwhile, has been keeping a close eye on Israel’s neighbors’ UAV programs, at the vanguard of which stands Iran. During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the IAF intercepted a Hezbollah UAV that was developed by the Islamic republic. Hezbollah attempted several UAV infiltrations during the war; one drone crashed inside Lebanon due to a presumed technical problem, while the others were intercepted by the IAF.

Hezbollah attempted to enter Israeli airspace with drones before the war, as well. In April 2005, a UAV was launched and flown between the cities of Acre and Nahariya in northern Israel, and then landed successfully in southern Lebanon. In November 2004, a Hezbollah drone infiltrated Israeli airspace, took photos of Israeli communities in the north, and made its way back to Lebanese air space before crashing into the Mediterranean. The drone managed to fly over Israeli territory for 15 minutes and was not detected by IDF radars.

In 2010, the IAF shot down an unidentified hot air balloon flying in southern Israel after it hovered close to the Dimona nuclear plant’s airspace.

Reporting on the Oct. 6 violation, Iran’s Press TV quoted retired Lebanese Maj. Gen. Hisham Jaber, who said that the unidentified drone was likely launched by a U.S. aircraft carrier stationed in Saudi Arabia.

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