TEHRAN, Iran – Iran has images of sensitive Israeli military bases taken by a drone that was launched by Lebanon's Hezbollah movement and downed by Israel earlier this month, a senior Iranian lawmaker claimed Monday in the latest boast from Tehran about purported advances in the capabilities of its unmanned aircraft.
The announcement gave no details about the photos — other than calling the Israeli bases "forbidden sites" — but it suggested Iranian drones have the ability to transmit data while in flight. It also appeared aimed at warning Israel about the options for retaliation for any possible strikes on Iranian nuclear sites.
A prominent lawmaker, Ismaeil Kowsari, also was quoted as saying that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah possesses more sophisticated Iranian-made drones than the one that was downed, including some that could carry weapons.
"These drones transmit the pictures online," Kowsari he told the semiofficial Mehr news agency. "The pictures of forbidden sites taken and transmitted by this drone are now in our possession."
The lawmaker, who heads the parliament's defense committee, said Hezbollah is "definitely" equipped with more sophisticated drones, but gave no further details.
A senior Israeli military official in Israel's northern command said he did not believe the drone possessed a camera, though he noted an Israeli investigation is continuing. He spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines.
Hezbollah "won't announce it as long as it doesn't see the need to do so ... That's why we say we will respond to Israel inside (its) territory, should it take any action against us," said Kowsari, a former commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard.
Iran has claimed that Iranian-made surveillance drones have made dozens of apparently undetected flights into Israeli airspace from Lebanon in recent years. Israel has rejected the account.
Iran's Defense Minister Ahmad Vahid also claimed on Sunday that Tehran has drones far more advanced than the Ayub unmanned aircraft launched by Hezbollah, saying it was not the "latest Iranian technology, definitely." He did not elaborate.
Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has said the Ayub drone was manufactured in Iran and assembled in Lebanon.
Iran routinely announces technological breakthroughs in its defense program. Last month it claimed to have started producing a long-range missile-carrying drone with a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles).
The Shahed-129, or Witness-129, covers much of the Middle East including Israel and nearly doubles the range of previous drones produced by Iranian technicians, who have often relied on reverse engineering military hardware with the country under Western embargo.
But it's unclear whether the new drone contains any elements of an unmanned CIA aircraft that went down in eastern Iran last year. Iran said it has recovered data from the RQ-170 Sentinel and claimed it was building its own replica.
Iran's claims are impossible to independently confirm because the country's arsenal is not open to widespread international inspection with multinational war games or other cooperation.
Additional reporting by Amy Teibel in Tel Aviv, Israel.