Hezbollah confirms sending drone into Israeli airspace

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Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (2nd R), NewsLIneToday    Gallery Enlarge Image

Prakash Mishra
Date  12 Oct.2012
The leader of Hezbollah claimed responsibility Thursday for launching an Iranian-made drone aircraft into Israeli airspace earlier this week, adding more tension to an already explosive Mideast atmosphere.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah warned that it would not be the last such operation by his Lebanese militant group
Israeli warplanes shot down the unmanned plane, but the infiltration marked a rare breach of Israel’s tightly guarded airspace. Hezbollah had been the leading suspect because of its arsenal of sophisticated Iranian weapons and a history of trying to deploy similar aircraft.

With a formidable arsenal that rivals that of the Lebanese army, Hezbollah is already under pressure in Lebanon from rivals who accuse it of putting Lebanon at risk of getting sucked into regional turmoil. Confirmation that Hezbollah was behind the drone could put the group under further strain internally as it pursues its long-standing conflict with Israel.

Hezbollah, a powerful Shia group committed to Israel’s destruction, has long served as an Iranian proxy along Israel’s northern border. It is also seen as a close ally of the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Israel accuses the al-Assad government of allowing Iran to ferry weapons to Hezbollah through its territory.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a brutal month-long war in mid-2006. Hundreds of people were killed and Hezbollah fired several thousand rockets and missiles into Israel before the conflict ended in a stalemate.

Israel routinely sends F-16 fighter planes over Lebanon, in violation of a UN Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 war. The Israeli planes have often broken the sound barrier over Beirut and other places as a show of strength, most recently after the drone incident.

“This statement today is a claim of responsibility by the Islamic resistance for this qualitative operation” of dispatching the drone, Sheik Nasrallah said in a televised address Thursday.

“Today we are uncovering a small part of our capabilities, and we shall keep many more hidden,” he said. “It is our natural right to send other reconnaissance flights inside occupied Palestine. …Hezbollah admits it sent the drone into Israel. This is not the first time and will not be the last. We can reach any place we want” in Israel, he said.

He said the aircraft was launched from Lebanese territory and flew “tens of kilometres” over sensitive Israeli installations before it was discovered and shot down by the Israeli air force near the Dimona nuclear reactor in Israel’s southern desert.

Launching the drone was a rare and provocative move by the Lebanese militants at a time of soaring regional tensions, with both Syria and Iran under intense international pressure.

Mr. Nasrallah said the aircraft was made in Iran and assembled by Hezbollah, adding that it was much more sophisticated than drones it sent before.

Touring southern Israel on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised efforts to prevent land infiltrations from Egypt. He mentioned that Israel has been equally successful “in the air, just like we thwarted the Hezbollah attempt last weekend,” his first public statement blaming Hezbollah.

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