Israel shoots down 'Hizballah drone' then strikes Lebanon-Syria border
The announcement came as the Lebanese state-run National News Agency reported that Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes on the Lebanese-Syrian border near the Lebanese border town of Shebba.
The NNA reported that the Israeli airstrikes were conducted near al-Rashaha hilltops near the town of Shebaa, close to the Lebanese-Syrian border. The warplane was then seen over Lebanese territory and local media reported that it was seen letting off countermeasure flairs.
The aerial showdown took place as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was preparing to address the UN General Assembly, where his speech is expected to focus on concerns of Iran’s rising influence across the region, particularly in neighboring Syria.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the drone took off from a Damascus military airport and was on a surveillance mission near Israel’s border. He said Israel decided to shoot it down after it entered the demilitarised zone between Syria and the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan.
Fighter jets were scrambled but did not attack the aircraft, and instead a single Patriot missile shot it down, he said.
“Our message is that the IDF will not allow any violation of Israeli sovereignty, and we will not allow Iranian forces, Hizballah, Islamic Jihad or Shia militias of any kind to approach the Israeli borders,” Conricus said. He said if any other attempts to violate Israel’s sovereignty are made, “we will respond swiftly.” IDF is the acronym for the Israeli Defense Forces.
Conricus said Hizballah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese group that has sent forces to back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, routinely uses drones on surveillance missions. But it is rare for the pilotless aircraft to enter Israeli airspace. Russian and Iranian forces are fighting in Syria in support of Assad.
Conricus also stressed that said Israel did not seek any further escalation.
Israeli military and political leaders are worried that as the Syrian civil war appears to be winding down, Iranian and Hizballah forces will maintain a permanent presence in the neighbouring country.
Netanyahu was to address the UN General Assembly later on Tuesday, with Iran at the top of his agenda.
The Israeli leader is a vocal critic of the international nuclear deal with Iran. He also is concerned about Tehran’s support for anti-Israel groups like Hizballah, and its development of long-range missiles capable of striking his country. He has repeatedly warned that Israel will not accept a military presence by Iran or any of its Shia allies in the Syrian border area near Israel.
Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting in Syria. But it has carried out dozens of airstrikes on alleged arms shipments bound for Hizballah. It fears the group will gain sophisticated weapons and smuggle them from Syria into Lebanon.
Israel and Hizballah are bitter enemies and fought a monthlong war in 2006 that ended in a stalemate, and Israeli officials fear another war could break out in the future.