JERUSALEM – Military sources tell a local Hebrew newspaper that the Israeli Air Force has deployed a US-made Patriot missile battery to Haifa in northern Israel as tensions mounted over the weekend flight of a drone into Israeli airspace.
The location of the battery, on a mountain overlooking Israel’s border with Lebanon, serves as further confirmation that Israel is concerned that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is behind the drone.
Forty-eight hours into the investigation of an unmanned aircraft flying into Israeli airspace there is no confirmation which of the Jewish state’s enemies have made significant enough technological strides to launch the drone and fly it deep into Israeli airspace. Saturday morning, Israeli radar tracked the drone flying toward the coast from the Mediterranean, then over the Gaza strip and into Israel. Twenty minutes after it crossed into southern Israel, scrambled fighter jets from the Israeli Air Force shot it down.
Since then, intense speculation has surrounded the drone’s origin. So far the Israeli Military has ruled out the militant groups in the Gaza Strip, and most evidence points to the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah, operating out of southern Lebanon.While the group has not commented directly, a TV station linked to the group said it belonged to Hezbollah. If true, it would be a major leap forward for the Shiite Muslim Militia.
In 2006, Hezbollah flew small drones laden with explosives into northern Israel, just across the Lebanon border, but a long range flight over the Mediterranean and then back into Israel would require a level of technological sophistication not yet seen from the group. One likely source of such technology would be Iran, which supplies much of Hezbollah weaponry and provides strategic guidance for the group.
Iran used the drone’s flight to poke fun at Israel, and an official was cited by the Associated Press as saying the move exposed the weakness of Israeli Air Defenses. Iran, however, did not directly claim responsibility. Rather, Jamaluddin Aberoumand of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps told the AP: “The Zionist Regime (Israel) has many enemies.”
Israeli experts speculate the drone may have been on a reconnaissance mission to gather intelligence on Israeli Military targets and possibly the closely guarded nuclear reactor at Dimona in the southern Israeli Desert.
Israeli fighters reportedly made several low passes over Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon, but stopped short of dropping bombs or trying to retaliate for the drone flight.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.