Who owns this drone? The case of the drone that wasn’t sent by Hezbollah

Worries over the proliferation of drones have escalated further as another drone was flown into Israeli airspace last week.  The drone was shot down by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), approximately five miles west of Haifa, a port to the north of the country. Initial reports suggested that the drone was launched by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamic militant group.

The Israeli Defence Force released a report on the incident, stating the drone

was tracked by IDF ground and aerial surveillance for the duration of its flight path as it attempted to approach Israel’s coast. Israel Air Force aircraft intercepted the UAV and successfully downed the target five nautical miles off the coast of the northern Israeli city of Haifa.

The Israeli Air Force subsequently launched a sea search for the wreckage of the drone.  The incident has caused great concern in Israel, especially as the Israeli Prime Minister was travelling  to attend a ceremony in a Druze village in Northern Israel, at the time the drone was intercepted. The Prime Minister’s helicopter was grounded until the Israeli Air Force had dealt with the incident and deemed the airspace clear.

An Israeli military spokesperson was quoted by Al-Jazeera as saying,  

A little after 1:00 pm, our aerial defence system identified (a drone) moving from north to south along the coast of Lebanon…. We don’t know where the aircraft was coming from and where it was actually going,

In contrast, Israeli Defence Minister Danny Danon told Israeli army radio, “We’re talking about another attempt by Hezbollah to send an unmanned drone into Israeli territory”.

Hezbollah had previously claimed ownership of a drone which entered Israeli airspace in October 2012. This drone was intercepted and shot down over the Negev desert. The drone flew in Israeli airspace for 30 minutes and was confirmed by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to be Iranian built and assembled in the Lebanon.  However Hezbollah have not claimed ownership of this most recent drone; releasing a statement through Al-Manar TV saying, “Hezbollah denies that it has sent any surveillance plane towards the occupied Palestinian land”. Hezbollah were quick to take credit for prior drone activity in 2006 and 2012, so their denial of this incident seems at odds with their previous strategy.

Analysis as to the origin of the drone and the motivation behind its flight has been relatively limited. According to the Jerusalem Post, the incident was a PR stunt aimed at distracting attention from Hezbollah’s involvement in the conflict in Syria. While the Christian Science Monitor focused on the incursions by the Israeli Air Force into Lebanese airspace. USA Today emphasised  the assertion that this was an opportunity for Hezbollah to show its political strength prior to the Lebanese elections. Regardless of ownership and motivation, one thing is clear – the proliferation of drone technology and the potential for it to be used by states and groups that the US, UK and Israel rather wished didn’t have access to drones can only continue. While this drone was unarmed, it is surely only a matter of time before we start to see armed drones circulating the skies of Israel. 

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