On October 6 Israel shot down a UAV over the northern Negev desert, south of Hebron and near the country’s nuclear weapons site at Dimona. The UAV entered Israeli airspace from the Mediterranean and was intercepted by F-16s from Ramon air base. According to Israeli media reports, the first Python missile fired at the drone missed, but a second was successful. The Israeli air force has released a video purporting to show the engagement.
Although the event sparked international speculation as to the provenance of the drone, Israeli authorities immediately suspected the Lebanese Hezbollah Shiite militant group. In an address on the group’s Al-Manar TV channel five days later, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for sending the drone over Israel. He also claimed that it had overflown numerous sensitive installations in what he described as “Occupied Palestine.” He added, “It’s not the first time and it will not be the last. We can reach all the zones [of Israel].” Nasrallah was referring to at least two earlier incidents–one in April 2005 and one in July 2006–when Hezbollah launched drones against Israel. In the first incident the vehicle returned unharmed, but in the 2006 incident the drone was shot down over Israeli territorial waters. In 2010 an Israeli fighter shot down an unmanned balloon near Dimona.
Nasrallah confirmed that Hezbollah’s drones have come from Iran, although they were assembled in Lebanon. The vehicle appears to have been relatively sophisticated compared to earlier vehicles, with a degree of autonomy. It was apparently launched from Lebanon, flying westwards out over the Mediterranean before turning back in toward the coastline, overflying the Gaza Strip before entering Israeli airspace. One report claims that it was a rotary-wing vehicle, although that appears unlikely.
Iran has developed a number of unmanned air vehicles, from the jet-powered, armed Karrar to a range of smaller, propeller-driven designs. Among them is the Shahed-129, revealed last month and similar to Israel’s Hermes 450. The vehicle shot down over Israel appears to be much smaller, perhaps in the class of the Scan Eagle.
What the drone was doing is open to conjecture. Hezbollah’s close ties with Iran have led to some suggestions that it was spying on Dimona on behalf of Iran. Whatever its true purpose, it serves as a timely reminder of Hezbollah’s capabilities and prompted a series of show-of-force missions by Israeli fighters over southern Lebanon in the days after the shootdown.