Two Iranian drones shot down over Iraq last month by American fighter jets were set to explode in Israeli territory, the defense establishment has confirmed.
The drones, which were downed by the international coalition close to Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, were said to be Shahed-136s.
Prior to the foiled attack, which occurred on February 14, Israeli security officials had been on high alert over fears of an Iranian response to a series of Israeli attacks on Iranian targets as part of the IDF’s war-between-wars campaign.
Last week, Hezbollah-affiliated al-Mayadeen reported that earlier in February Israel destroyed hundreds of Iranian drones in a strike that targeted the Kermanshah air base. In response to that attack, Iran fired 12 ballistic missiles toward Erbil targeting what they claimed to be an Israeli military base.
The confirmation of the reports comes a month after the Israel Air Force announced that two Iranian Shahed 197 drones heading toward Israel were downed by IAF F-35i fighter jets last year.
One drone, flying toward Israel from the south, was identified at around 1:44 a.m. and was shot down at 2:19 a.m. The second one, which was flying towards Israel from the east, was identified at 1:46 a.m. and downed at 2:16 a.m.
The F-35is were part of the 140th Golden Eagle Squadron and 116th Lions of the South Squadron.
Though the IDF was unable to say where exactly the drones were launched from, “The UAVs were detected and tracked throughout their flight by ground control units.” The pieces of the UAVs were collected and documented by a regional country and shared with the IDF.
“The interception of the UAVs was carried out prior to them entering Israeli airspace, in coordination with neighboring countries,” the military said, without naming the countries due to security concerns.
The drones, that were ferrying weapons to Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, were downed in March 2021 by missiles fired by the stealth jets, making it the first time that the aircraft downed unmanned aerial systems anywhere in the world.
Israeli officials estimate that Iran was attempting to test whether military equipment could be smuggled to Gaza via drone and if successful, if more significant weapons could be smuggled in a similar way in the future.
Iran has been launching drones and other unmanned aerial systems to Israel since 2018. The increase of attempts by Tehran has placed the threats posed by such systems in the top five threats facing the Israel Air Force.
The IAF, which is considered the strongest air force in the Middle East, has admitted that identifying and intercepting hostile drones – be they drones belonging to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza or Iranian drones – is challenging.
The drones are small, fly fast and low to the ground, making it hard for Israeli radar to detect them.