Warning from above
Analysis: Drone carried with it Iranian message to Israel regarding any future conflict
Published: 10.07.12, 14:10 / Israel Opinion
Some entity, apparently Iran through Hezbollah or the Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon, tested its technological and operational capabilities and also tested Israel's air defense capabilities. While Israel's air defense systems worked, we cannot ignore the fact that the drone, which was apparently Iranian made, was shot down a mere 30 kilometers from the Dimona reactor. This will give Nasrallah and his masters a cause for celebration.
Israel, which threatens Iran and flies regularly over Lebanon to take photos, received a warning on Saturday: We too can fly above you, take photos and reach your most sensitive sites, so don't mess with us.
Naturally, Israel is withholding information regarding the penetration of the drone into its airspace, because at this very moment professionals in Iran and Lebanon are waiting for every bit of information regarding the drone's flight and the manner in which it was shot down in order to draw operational lessons: Where are the Israeli air defense's weak spots? What are the weaknesses of the drone itself?
Meanwhile in Israel, engineers and intelligence officials are reassembling the drone. It is not every day that you get an opportunity to study a product of Iranian technology so thoroughly and see how far they have come.
Those who launched the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will manipulate the infiltration for their own propaganda purposes, as the drone was shot down only after flying for 20 minutes over populated Israeli areas, an army base and near sensitive facilities such as the Dimona reactor.
Israel is presenting the drone's interception as a show of force and an achievement. The Air Force claims it could have downed the UAV during any stage of its flight over Israel but preferred to shoot it down over a non-populated area to avoid causalities and damage.
The good news is that the system that is supposed to protect Israel's skies works. The drone was detected while it was still flying over the Mediterranean Sea, a few minutes before 10 am. Four F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the drone even before it entered Gaza's airspace.
The fighter jets' radars also detected the UAV - a significant technological feat considering the fact that drones travels at a slow speed – and later used a heat-seeking missile to down the drone, which emits less heat than other, larger aircraft.
The fact that the drone was launched on a Saturday morning is not coincidental. Its operators apparently assumed that the level of alertness is lower on Saturday, when all kinds of civilian planes and hang gliders are in the air.
The bad news is that the drone, which apparently departed from Lebanon, flew over the sea for at least three hours, and did not raise enough suspicion in Israel until it approached Gaza's coastline. This may indicate a technological or protocol problem, or perhaps a lack of alertness. In any case, the incident calls for improvements in all three areas.
The drone's interception should remind Israel's citizens of what army intelligence has known all along: The other side is constantly looking for ways to infiltrate the country, for weak points, and it is preparing what Nasrallah referred to as a "surprise weapon" – a weapon that will infiltrate deeper into Israeli territory, a weapon that is meant to rattle the State of Israel's nerves.
Now Israel will check whether Iran's drones have more advanced capabilities, such as a space-based satellite navigation system (GPS), which is more accurate, or even a satellite communication system.
Such a drone is capable of carrying intelligence gathering apparatus or weapons systems. It can also serve as a 'suicide drone' laden with explosives, which can crash into a target such as a cruise missile.
In the next war drones will come from the north in waves, and Gaza may contribute its part as well, as Hamas is working independently to develop its own UAVs.
For now there are more questions than answers, but there is no doubt that this incident constitutes a major turning point as far as Israel's security is concerned. The Iranians sent us a message via Lebanon: You will be attacked not only with rockets and missiles, but with explosives-laden unmanned aircraft as well.