Israel intercepted an Iranian- built unmanned aerial vehicle that breached the “Bravo line,” which marks the Syrian demilitarized zone, by firing a Patriot anti-ballistic missile stationed near Safed on Tuesday.
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said Hezbollah operated drone took off from Damascus International Airport and was followed in real-time by the army before it crossed into the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria and was intercepted by a Patriot missile.
The Iranian-built drone was used by Hezbollah to collect intelligence, Manelis said, adding that fighter jets were also scrambled but did not fire on the drone which fell in the area of the Syrian town of Quneitra controlled by the Assad regime.
While the drone did not at any point cross into Israeli territory, “the IDF will not allow any infiltration or attempt to infiltrate by any Iranian elements, be it Hezbollah or Shi’ite militia group, of the Golan Heights.
We will respond to every action very clearly and we will act to prevent any future attempt,” Manelis said.
Following the incident the army raised the threat level in the Northern Command.
And while the IDF stated that it was not looking to escalate the situation by retaliating “at this time,” Lebanese media reported that the IAF carried out two air raids on the Lebanese-Syria border east of the town of Shebaa on Al-Rashaha Hill.
The border with Syria has been tense since war erupted in 2011, and Israel has carried out over 100 strikes against Hezbollah weapons convoys in Syrian territory over the past five years. With various heavily armed radical groups battling President Bashar Assad, Syria is Israel’s most unpredictable and unstable neighbor and poses one of the largest risks for a sudden escalation.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman responded to the incident saying that Israel will not tolerate any threats or attempts to harm the citizens of Israel.
“Anyone who tries to harm our sovereignty, to harm our security, must know that he will pay a dear and expensive price for it. We are prepared for every scenario and in every sector.”
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced their concern about the entrenchment of Iran and its proxies such as Hezbollah entrenching themselves in Syria and the IDF has recently completed a large-scale drill in the country’s north with tens of thousands of soldiers drilling for a war with Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
According to Liberman, the interception testifies to the preparedness of the IDF and the defense establishment.
“The transition from routine to emergency at a pace that we are living here is unprecedented, and I repeat that there is no more army more prepared, at a professional level like the IDF. And today’s readiness, despite all the publications and all the talk, is the highest readiness that has ever been.”
According to Arieh Herzog, the former head of the Missile Defense Organization at the Defense Ministry, the Patriot missile system was initially designed to intercept airplanes and is a very effective system and popular around the world.
“As you can see, this time it is also effective against very low flying unmanned aerial vehicles,” Herzog said on a call organized by the Israel Project, adding that the Patriot-2 anti-aircraft system was “the correct system to be chosen for this mission.”
Herzog stated that he expects Hezbollah to continue using reconnaissance drones against Israel as it is “one of the more effective ways to collect intelligence,” explaining that the terrorist organization uses them “from time to time and of course this is something that cannot be tolerated and therefore we had to intercept it.”
“Hezbollah over the years has stockpiled unmanned air vehicles which are designed and produced by Iran using them mainly for reconnaissance missions,” he said.
In the past, the country has used the Patriot system against suspicious aerial vehicles, most recently in April when it intercepted another UAV which flew into Israel from Syria hours after Israel allegedly struck a Hezbollah arms depot near Damascus International Airport.
The system was also used in July 2016 when two Patriot missiles were fired at a suspicious drone that crossed into Israeli airspace from Syria.
Both missed their target and the unmanned aircraft returned to Syria. In August 2014, a Patriot missile successfully shot down a drone that entered Israeli airspace from the Quneitra region of Syria close to the Israeli border.
In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, Commander of the Aerial Defense Division Brig.-Gen. Zvika Haimovich, stated that UAVs are a big challenge due to their size, speed and low flying altitude. Nevertheless, the country’s aerial defense systems “are flexible enough” to counter any threat, including UAVs.
In mid-August Israel carried out a test of its Patriot system focusing on the threats posed by UAVs and firing multiple interceptor missiles toward aerial targets over central Israel.
With the Iron Dome, the Arrow and David’s Sling, Israel’s aerial defense system provide a comprehensive protective umbrella able to counter the growing missile threats from short range rockets to longer-range ballistic missiles fired at ranges between 40 km. and 300 km.