The UAV lesson

It is imperative that Israel let its increasingly brazen and confrontational enemies know that this manifest taunt will not go unanswered.

IAF shoots down UAV 370 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman's Office)
IAF shoots down UAV 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman's Office)
Headlines generated by the invasion of our national overhead space by an unidentified drone last week – significantly on the October 6 anniversary of the launching of the 1973 Yom Kippur War – quickly gave way to the hullabaloo created by the calling of early elections. The entire drone episode soon disappeared from public discourse.
But it shouldn’t have. True, no lives were lost as on the horrific Night of the Gliders on November 25, 1987, when two hang gliders flew low toward the Lebanese border and the terrorist on one of them surprised troops near Kiryat Shmona, killing eight and wounding eight.
The latest unmanned aerial vehicle carried no weapons systems and wasn’t laden with explosives that could have turned it into a suicide-drone. Nevertheless, this was a powerful warning that such flying objects could descend upon us in waves at times of escalated conflict.
For this reason alone this was no incidental footnote as with various other flying objects that have infiltrated our skies, from a hot-air balloon that came perilously close to the Dimona nuclear facility to an assortment of much smaller UAVs, which mostly resembled amateur remote-control contraptions more than they did the large and sophisticated drone that crossed into Israel just above the border with the Gaza Strip.
Herein lies the difference, even if the drone did no physical harm and might not have succeeded in transmitting any sensitive aerial shots (not that the latter are so difficult to obtain these days with the proliferation on the Internet of satellite views).
The UAV that most recently overflew the Negev was of a different caliber. It was scientifically and technologically more complicated, and larger than previous uninvited airborne visitors. It was something that only a state could build, as distinct from terrorist outfits (even if the latter are charged as its caretakers and commissioned deployers).
The decision to send such a drone down the coasts of Lebanon and Israel (its presumed path) and then have it cross overland into southern Israel is not the whim of a local terrorist cell chieftain. It is a major provocation and a blatant violation of Israel’s sovereignty, even if the drone’s mission was only to gather intelligence and/or test Israel’s defenses. Espionage is a form of aggression too.
This is a mission with extremely sensitive ramifications and hence one that is unlikely to have been undertaken without state sponsorship, and at the highest echelons of that state. The operative assumption in Israel is that this was an Iranian initiative, even if Hezbollah functioned in this instance as Tehran’s subcontractor.
We in this country may accord unwavering credence to the Israel Air Force’s assertion that the drone was under its surveillance long before it trespassed into our jurisdiction and that it was allowed nearly 20 minutes of Negev air time so the IAF could observe its capabilities before it was finally hit a mere 30 kilometers from Dimona.
Indeed, reliable indications are that the air force was alerted to the drone while it was still over water and before it came near Gaza. It may well be that those at the control headquarters in Iran and Lebanon know that they failed to surprise and penetrate undetected.
But that is not how the incident is played for public consumption in Tehran and Beirut and this is not without importance.
Even if it is based on utter falsehoods, this seeming breach of our security dents Israel’s deterrence in the eyes of precisely those populations that Israel aims to deter. If the Iranians’ objective (and that of Iran’s Hezbollah proxies) was to achieve a propaganda feat and claim to have humiliated Israel, then they succeeded from their point of view.
This is not something we can afford to smugly scoff at. This is escalation, and Israeli silence could be misconstrued as weakness and vulnerability.
This is not to say that we should go on the immediate offensive with all guns blazing. But it is imperative that Israel let its increasingly brazen and confrontational enemies know – whether via public pronouncements by our higher-ups or via more discreet messaging – that this manifest taunt is viewed here as throwing down the gauntlet and that it will not go unanswered.