(Bloomberg) -- Israel’s air force took out what it said were “killer drones” in Syria that Iran had prepped to attack Israeli territory. Later Hezbollah accused Israel of a “suicide drone” attack in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital.
Israel has rarely confirmed such attacks but did so in the case of Syria. It did not comment on the separate explosions in Beirut.
“This was an initiative of Iran, under the command of Iran, at the behest of Iran,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the drones taken out in Syria. “We will not tolerate aggression against Israel from any country in the region.”
Israel has hit targets in Syria hundreds of times in the past dozen years to prevent Iran from stockpiling an arsenal at Israel’s border.
Iran denied that its targets were hit in Syria, according to the state news agency ILNA. Iran’s Press TV, citing an official from its regional ally, Hezbollah, reported that two Israeli drones crashed in Beirut.
The incident is “a flagrant aggression on Lebanese sovereignty,” Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said.
“This is a very dangerous development,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said of the overnight violence. He said that two of his fighters stationed in Syria were killed in the attack there.
He called Israel’s moves “the first act of aggression since 2006,” when Israel fought the Shiite militia after eight of its soldiers were killed and two kidnapped on the Lebanese border.
Israeli website Ynet said that according to published photographs, the drones that exploded in Lebanon were manufactured in Iran, not Israel.
In February 2018, Israel said Iran sent a drone into its airspace from Syria, prompting the air force to shoot it down and target a number of Iranian sites in Syria.
“We can’t know if this will deteriorate into a real war between Israel and Iran, which will use its Hezbollah proxy,” said Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser and a major general in the reserves, “But we are taking that into account, and if that is the price we pay for stopping the Iranians from building their independent war machine in Syria -- we should pay the price.”
Amidror said that the fact that Israel had failed to keep Iran from arming Hezbollah in Lebanon meant that keeping it from building up weapons now in Syria was even more important.
Israel thwarted an earlier attempt to set off the drones near the Israeli border on Aug. 22, then decided to destroy them before operatives could relaunch, said the army’s spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus. The northern command was on heightened alert as the country prepared for the possibility of more attacks, according to Conricus.
“We are constantly assessing the situation with all senior commanders to see how things are unfolding,” he told journalists in a phone briefing.
The drones, designed to explode on impact, were similar to the ones used in Yemen by Iranian-aligned and Iranian forces, and were shipped or flown into Syria, Conricus said, declining to specify how many were destroyed.
(Updates with Nasrallah comments in fifth paragraph.)
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