Lt.-Col. L., the pilot who downed the Iranian drone over Israel early on February 10, 2018.
(photo credit: IDF)
The Iranian drone that infiltrated Israeli airspace in early February was armed with explosives and was sent to carry out an attack in the Jewish state, the IDF said on Friday.
“The interception of the Iranian unmanned aircraft by an attack helicopter prevented an Iranian intent to carry out an attack in the territory of the State of Israel,” read a statement by the army.
The Iranian UAV was monitored by Israeli defense systems until it was intercepted and destroyed, eliminating any threat it posed, the army statement added.
The advanced Iranian drone, believed to be a copy of a US stealth drone that was downed in Iran in 2011, took off from the T-4 airbase deep in the Syrian province of Homs and crossed into Israeli territory via Jordanian airspace on February 10.
The drone was intercepted at 4:30 a.m. near Beit She’an by an Israel Air Force Apache attack helicopter.
IAF Chief Of Staff Brig.-Gen. Tomer Bar, the second-most-senior air force officer, said the drone was an advanced model with a “low signature” that Israel had never intercepted before.
“We waited for it to cross into our territory,” he said, stressing that it was important “to get our hands on the drone.”
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The army carried out an operational and intelligence-based investigation on the remains of the Iranian UAV.
Following the infiltration, Israeli jets took off to strike the launch site of the drone as well as the control vehicle that had guided the drone into Israeli territory, and were met by heavy Syrian antiaircraft fire. More than 20 missiles were fired at the Israeli jets from SA-5 and SA-17 surface-to-air batteries.
The pilot and navigator of one of the IAF F16Is ejected from their jet, which crashed in the Lower Galilee after being hit by the Syrian anti-aircraft fire. The crew parachuted to earth inside Israel and was evacuated to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. Both have since been released from the hospital and the navigator has returned to flight duty.
It was the first time since 1982 that an Israeli jet was lost in a combat situation, and led to an extensive retaliation by Israel with additional strikes against both the Syrian missile batteries and Iranian military targets in the war-torn country.
Tensions have been rising on the northern border in recent months as Iran entrenches its forces deeper into Syria with its presence. The smuggling of sophisticated weaponry and the building of a precision missile factory in Lebanon for Hezbollah has also been a growing concern for Jerusalem.
Last week, Israel reportedly carried out an air strike against Syria’s T4 airbase (the same base from where the drone took off from in February) killing several personnel, including seven Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers.
According to the Russian military, the strike was carried out by two Israeli F-15 jets with guided missiles fired from Lebanon’s airspace. Five out of the eight missiles used were said to have been destroyed by Syrian air defenses.
In a Wednesday phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russian President Vladimir Putin was quoted by the Sputnik news agency as stressing the need for Israel to respect Syria’s sovereignty and called for “refraining from any actions that might further destabilize the situation in this country and pose a threat to its security.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had also criticized the strike, calling it “a very dangerous development.”
Ali Shirazi, liaison for the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the elite Quds Force, threatened that Tehran would destroy Israel if it doesn’t stop its “childish game.”
During a speech aired on Friday, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah warned that following the strike Israel was now in a direct confrontation with Iran, calling it a “critical juncture in the history of the region.”
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