Israel’s military said late Saturday that its air force tracked and shot down an unmanned, unarmed drone that flew for roughly twenty minutes over a desert deep in Israeli airspace, raising the possibility of a retaliatory response.
An Israeli military spokeswoman did not say whether the drone had flown over sensitive targets, or speculate about its mission.
“We view this incident of attempting to enter Israeli airspace very severely and we will consider our response later,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement.
No hostile aircraft has penetrated Israeli airspace in six years, according to the Associated Press.
The pro-Iran Islamic militant group Hezbollah, a prime suspect in today’s incursion, has previously sent drones into Israel. Last week, Israeli officials announced they had arrested an Arab citizen living in Israel on charges of spying and identifying vulnerable military targets for Hezbollah.
Israel “will continue to defend our borders in the sea, on the land and in the air for the security of the citizens of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
In 2006, Israeli forces quickly shot down a drone that Hezbollah launched into Israel.
Tensions have escalated dramatically in the Middle East in recent weeks, with Netanyahu warning the United Nations two weeks ago that Iran must be stopped from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“The world tells Israel ‘wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?'” Netanyahu said in September. “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
President Obama refused last month to meet face-to-face with Netanyahu, but emphasized his commitment to stability and security in the region.
“I have conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu all the time,” the president told “60 Minutes” in September. “And I understand and share Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence that Iran should not obtain a nuclear weapon, because it would threaten us, it would threaten Israel, and it would threaten the world and kick off a nuclear arms race.”
Obama made clear that his primary concern is for the safety of Americans.
“When it comes to our national security decisions — any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people,” Obama said. “And I am going to block out — any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis — on these issues. Because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.”
Watch the shootdown: