The Israeli air force has shot down an unmanned “enemy” drone over its airspace, with suspicion immediately falling on Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group which boasted about a similar incursion seven months ago.
The action, just after lunchtime today, forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was travelling in an air force helicopter, to land before an F-16 aircraft shot the drone down some five nautical miles of the coast of the northern Israeli city of Haifa.
In a statement, Mr Netanyahu, said: “I view with utmost gravity this attempt to violate our border. We will continue to do everything necessary to safeguard the security of Israel's citizens.”
The Israeli military would not confirm Hezbollah's involvement, but have identified the drone as being an “enemy” aircraft. A spokesman for the Israeli military, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said the area was being searched from remnants of the aircraft and that it was not possible at this stage to confirm which the group it had belonged to.
Hezbollah, with which Israel fought a six-week war in 2006, boasted in October last year that it had sent another drone into Israeli airspace, which was subsequently destroyed, and that it had other unmanned aircraft at its disposal. At the time, the group's leader Hasan Nasrallah said that the Iranian-designed drones had been assembled in Lebanon, asserting Hezbollah's right to launch the drones in response to Israeli jets' frequent incursion into Lebanese airspace.
Tensions on the border between the two countries have risen in recent months, keeping pace with the escalation of the civil war in Syria. Hezbollah, an ally of the Assad regime, is thought to be playing an ever increasingly role in the conflict - a move that has increased nervousness in the Jewish state.
Israel almost certainly destroyed military hardware - probably surface-to-air missile launchers - inside Syria during an air raid in February and has warned consistently that it will prevent what it considers to be dangerous weapons and equipment getting into Hezbollah's hands. The Israeli military does not comment on its missions. Israel and the United States consider Hezbollah to be a terrorist organisation. Several European countries are lobbying the EU to adopt a similar stance.
Hezbollah's spokesman in Lebanon, Ibrahim Moussawi, told the Associated Press that he had no information on today's incident, adding the group would put out a statement if it had further details. Hezbollah TV said the militant group has denied sending the drone. It was several days after the October incursion that Hasan Nasrallah confirmed Hezbollah's role.