A senior Iranian military official claimed Tuesday that Iranian-made surveillance drones have made dozens of apparently undetected flights into Israeli airspace from Lebanon in recent years to probe air defenses and collect reconnaissance data. An Israeli official rejected the account.
The Iranian official declined to give further details on the purported missions or the capabilities of the drones, including whether they were similar to the unmanned aircraft launched last week by Lebanon's Hezbollah and downed by Israeli warplanes. It also was impossible to independently verify the claims from the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The Iranian assertions appear to be part of the Islamic Republic's widening strategy to boast about military advances – including warships and longer-range drones – that Tehran says could reorder the balance of power in the region as the West and its allies boost pressure over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran's leaders also seek to portray Israel as vulnerable to Tehran and its proxies.
But an Israeli security official rejected the Iranian claims, saying last week's interception of a drone was the first time such an infiltration had occurred. He said Israel spotted the unmanned aircraft well before it entered Israeli airspace, determined it was not "dangerous" and then shot it down over uninhabited desert according to plan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because an Israeli military investigation is still under way.
The Iranian official claimed drones made by the Islamic Republic have made "dozens of flights over Israel" since the summer 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. He said Israeli defenses had been unable to detect the surveillance craft.
"The one that was shot down last week was not the first and will not be the last to fly into Israeli airspace," the official said.
Iran has often used its military moves to send messages to Israel and the US, which has key bases in Gulf Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Tehran last year sent warships into the Mediterranean Sea for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Last month, Iranian military leaders gave details of a new long-range drone and tested fired four anti-ship missiles just before US-led naval drills in the Gulf.
At the time, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, also warned that US bases in the Gulf could face retaliatory strikes if Israel attacks Iran's nuclear sites.