At approximately 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, the Israeli Air Force intercepted a foreign drone near the Yatir Forest in the northern Negev. “The aircraft was identified before entering Israeli airspace and was downed in accordance with a decision of the IDF’s top leaders,” according to a statement released on the IDF website.
Press reports indicate that the drone was in Israeli territory for 30 minutes prior to being shot down; however, IDF spokesperson Yoav Mordechai has said that it was actually “much less than half an hour.”
The exact origin of the drone, which did not carry any explosives, is currently unknown. According to Haaretz, the Israeli defense establishment has decided “to refrain from divulging the full details” of the drone’s origin for the time being. Nonetheless, early reports from the Israeli media suggest that the drone was from Lebanon, and not the Gaza Strip. Israeli authorities are also looking into the possibility that the drone was sent by Egypt or one of the jihadist groups operating in the Sinai, according to Haaretz. Earlier this year, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that “Hezbollah has been allocating increased resources towards bolstering its drone unit.”
Israeli authorities are currently searching for debris to help in the identification process. It is believed that the drone was either on an intelligence gathering mission or testing Israel’s air defenses. According to Ynet News, Israeli authorities are testing a number of theories, including one in which the drone “was on its way to test the option of infiltrating the nuclear reactor in Dimona, perhaps even to examine the option of targeting the plant in a future conflict.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the IDF, while Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel views “this incident of attempting to enter Israeli airspace very severely and we will consider our response later.”
Today’s incident is not the first of its kind. In 2010, the Israeli air force shot down an unmanned balloon near the Dimona nuclear reactor. During the 2006 war with Hezbollah, the Israeli air force shot down a number of Hezbollah drones, and in 2004 an Iranian-made drone spent approximately five minutes in Israeli territory.
David Barnett is a research assistant at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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Just an FYI. Google Earth shows that the northern edge of the Yatir Forest follows the 1949 Armistice Agreement Line at the south end of the West Bank territory of Palestine. The West Bank city of Samu’a is north of the Yatir Forest and the Israeli town of Shani-Livne is within the northern edge of the Yatir Forest.