(NEW YORK) — The leader of Hezbollah claimed Thursday his group was responsible for an unidentified drone that flew deep into Israeli airspace on Saturday before it was shot out of the sky by the Israeli Air Force, and that the aircraft was Iranian-made.
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the militant Lebanon-based group, made the revelations in a televised address Thursday and boasted that the drone had been able to fly hundreds of kilometers undetected before it entered Israel, then tens of kilometers over Israel before it was eventually shot down.
“Today we are uncovering a small part of our capabilities, and we shall keep many more hidden,” Nasrallah said, adding that it is Hezbollah’s “natural right” and the group “can reach any place we want.”
He said the drone was able to film strategic and sensitive Israeli facilities — it was downed near the Dimona nuclear facility — and claimed that his group plans to put more drones in the air over Israel. In addition to surveillance drones like this one, he said some of Hezbollah’s drones could be armed as well.
The Israeli military said the drone entered Israel from the Mediterranean Sea, flying over the Gaza Strip and then the Negev desert before it was shot down south of the West Bank. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said it had not detected any drone flying from Lebanese airspace into Israeli airspace on Saturday.
A Lebanese television station close to Hezbollah had reported the drone was Hezbollah’s but Nasrallah’s address was the first official claim. Shortly after Israel downed the drone, fighter jets streaked over southern Lebanon, causing a sonic boom, according to Lebanese media. Israel crossing into Lebanese air space, however, is a common occurrence, a fact reiterated by Nasrallah.
Nasrallah said the weekend’s drone was assembled by Lebanese experts but made in Iran, which has a much-publicized drone development program. Following the Israeli destruction of the drone, an Iranian commander said the incident had shown the “weakness and inefficiency” of Israeli defense systems.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised his country’s military for taking the drone out and said Israel will “continue to defend our borders by sea, land, and air to guarantee the security of our citizens.”
In apparent response to the drone incursion, earlier this week Israel deployed Patriot missile batteries to Haifa, some 20 miles from Lebanon’s southern border.
Ted Harshberger, director of Project Air Force at the RAND Corporation thinktank, wrote in U.S. News and World Report that the incident should not have come as a surprise considering how easy it is to develop relatively unsophisticated drones.
“Practically any country that aspires to an indigenous aviation industry (as most countries do, even if only for national pride) has a reasonably capable, medium-altitude unmanned drone system in development or flying already,” he wrote.
In his address, Nasrallah also denied widespread reports that Hezbollah fighters are in Syria fighting for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and that they’d been killed. He said there were “Lebanese villages” inside Syria, apparently meaning villages that straddle the border, and that some of the 30,000 residents of the villages had taken up arms to defend themselves. If Hezbollah goes to fight in Syria, Nasrallah said, the group would make it public.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN