(photo credit: AP [file])
As tensions rise with Syria, fears have mounted in the defense establishment that Hizbullah may fly an explosives-packed drone into Israel in retaliation for the February assassination of Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
During the 2006 war with Lebanon, Hizbullah launched four unmanned aerial vehicles at Israel. One was shot down by a Python 5 air-to-air missile fired by an F-16, another crashed shortly after takeoff, one was shot down over the sea and another crashed in Israel.
The UAVs were all Iranian-made Ababils, which have a known range of 150 km., and can reach 300 kph. and carry 45 kg. of high-grade explosives. Alternatively, they can carry surveillance equipment.
According to globalsecurity.org, Iran has a number Ababil- and Mohajer-class UAVs. Both can carrying surveillance equipment as well as explosives for kamikaze attacks. Iran is known to have supplied at least a dozen Mohajer-4 UAVs to Hizbullah in recent years; they are called Misrad-1 by the guerrilla group.
According to the Web site, Syria has a number of Soviet-made Tupolev DR-3 drones.
There are fears in Israel that Hizbullah could receive these UAVs. "Our assumption is that whatever is small enough to fit into a shipping container can have been sent from Iran or Syria to Hizbullah," a top defense official said.
While Israel played down reports of tensions with Syria over the weekend, officials stressed the defense establishment was operating under the assumption that Hizbullah would retaliate for Mughniyeh's assassination.
A large-scale attack - the downing of an Israeli civilian aircraft with a shoulder-to-air missile or the crashing of an explosive-laden UAV into Israel - could prompt a severe IDF response against Hizbullah and possibly also Syria.
On Thursday, the IDF passed a message to the Syrian military via UN forces in Syria that Israel had no offensive intentions but that if attacked it would respond forcefully.
Officials warned over the weekend that a retaliatory attack for Mughniyeh's death could also come in the form of assassinating a current or former top Israeli military or diplomatic official, an attack against an Israeli embassy or a Hizbullah attempt to kidnap soldiers along the northern border.
Intelligence officials from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Mossad and Military Intelligence have been meeting on a regular basis since the assassination to analyze the intelligence and to assess the threat.
The defense establishment believes that the threat level will continue to be high through Pessah, Independence Day and possibly until the end of the year.
The latest assessments have said there is less danger of an attack against a Jewish organization abroad - such as Hizbullah's 1994 bombing of the main Jewish community center in Buenos Aires - with the more likely scenario being either an attack in Israel or against an Israeli embassy or consulate.
Measures taken include beefing up security on overseas Israeli flights. The number of air marshals on Israeli planes servicing certain destinations has been increased and more security personnel have been assigned to surround aircraft before takeoff and on landing. Some flights in Europe and Asia are escorted by helicopters during takeoff and landing.