The Iranian drone that was downed by the air force after it infiltrated Israeli airspace in February was armed with explosives and on its way to carry out an attack, the Israeli military said Friday.
The statement by the Israel Defense Forces comes as tensions between Israel and Iran heighten after this week’s airstrike in Syria that Damascus, Moscow and Tehran say was carried out by Israel.
Israel shot down the advanced Iranian drone early on February 10; the aircraft was operated by the Iranian air force from a command center at Syria’s T4 air base near Homs.
The drone entered Israeli airspace near the Beit She’an Valley and an Israeli attack helicopter shot it down with a missile. At first some experts believed that the aircraft was merely a reconnaissance drone.
But amid the tensions with Iran, IDF Spokesman Ronen Manelis said Friday that the drone’s route and “intelligence and operational analysis of the parts of the Iranian unmanned vehicle” indicated that “the aircraft was carrying explosives” and that its goal was “an act of sabotage in Israeli territory.”
Following the infiltration by the drone, Israel launched an airstrike on Syria, targeting the unmanned plane’s command center and anti-aircraft batteries. During the attack an Israeli F-16 was downed over Israel by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile.
“The interception of the Iranian drone by attack helicopters thwarted an attack,” Manelis said, adding that the drone “was identified by defense systems and was under surveillance until it was shot down and posed no threat at any stage.”
The military’s statement Friday suggests a high probability that the attack in Syria this week attributed to Israel was against an Iranian target that represented a similar threat. This week’s attack also targeted the T4 base.
Earlier this week, reports in the foreign media said seven Iranian advisers were killed in the attack, among them the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ drone unit.
The timing of the Israeli statement may very well be linked to this week’s war of words between Israel and Iran. After the attack on the T4 base, Iran threatened revenge.
Israel is now also battling for international legitimacy for its effort to stop Iran’s military buildup in Syria. While the United States and EU countries show some understanding for Israel’s demand that Iranian forces and Shi’ite militias keep their distance from the Golan border, actions deep in Syria that have been attributed to Israel have been received with less sympathy.
Earlier Friday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Israel made “a stupid and historic mistake” in attacking the Syrian air base, saying it ushered in a new phase that put Israel in a state of “direct confrontation” with Iran.