The IAF shot down a small unmanned aerial vehicle as it flew over southern Israel on Saturday morning, in one of the most flagrant violations of the nation’s airspace in years.

The drone did not carry explosives and likely had been dispatched on an intelligence- gathering mission, as well as to test Israel’s air defenses.

F-16I fighter jets were scrambled from the Ramon Air Base in the Negev immediately after the UAV was sighted. The pilots received instructions to trail it for a while before being told to blow it out of the sky for safety reasons. At 10 a.m., one of the fighters fired a missile, directly striking the drone and sending down burning debris.

On the ground, explosives experts from the IDF Engineering Corps were waiting to pick up the pieces. They rounded up fragments and brought them to military laboratories for analysis.

The IDF did not officially say where the UAV took off.

It entered Israeli airspace via the Gaza Strip, but the army denied Palestinian reports saying it had taken off there.

The most likely route involved a takeoff somewhere in Lebanon and a flight out over the Mediterranean Sea before a bank south toward Israel. Other routes are also possible. None has been ruled out by the IDF.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz received real-time updates throughout the incident.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised the IDF and the air force for their quick and effective interception, adding that the downing took place south of Hebron.

“We take a severe view of the attempt to violate Israeli airspace and we will consider our response,” Barak said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also commended the military for downing the UAV, stating, “We will continue to defend our borders by sea, land and air to guarantee the security of our citizens.”

On at least one occasion, Hezbollah launched a drone from Lebanon into Israel. In 2010, an IAF warplane shot down an apparently unmanned balloon over the Negev near the Dimona nuclear reactor.

Jerusalem Post staff and Reuters contributed to this report.

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