On Monday, 18 July 2022, the Israeli military intercepted a small drone that crossed into Israel’s airspace from southern Lebanon. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) stated that its air defense unit monitored the drone throughout the duration of its flight, and presumes that it was launched by the armed Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit reported no injuries in the incident and said that the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was collected by troops for examination and further investigation. This recent event is a continuation of Hezbollah’s “reconnaissance missions” carried out to obtain information about the activities of an enemy through visual observation.
“The drone was monitored by air control units, and the IDF will continue to act to prevent any violation of Israel’s sovereignty,” the military said in a statement.
Hezbollah, an internationally recognized terrorist group, sent three unarmed drones to Israel’s Karish gas field that were shot down by the Israeli Navy and Air Force earlier in July, . Israel’s military later revealed that the IDF had shot down another drone that was en-route to the Israeli offshore gas field three days prior.
The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a public address that the group wanted the drones to be spotted and shot down in order to demonstrate to Israeli workers on board the gas rig that “they are not safe.”
“We will hit the Karish gas field, and beyond. We monitor all gas fields across the maritime border. And if you want to prevent Lebanon from exercising its right to save itself by extracting oil and gas, then no one will be able to extract it,” stated Nasrallah.
The Karish gas field, which Israel claims is located in its exclusive economic zone, has been at the center of a maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon that has long impeded energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions soared after a vessel operated by London-based oil and gas exploration company Energean arrived at the field to start drilling on behalf of Israel. Beirut viewed this move as an act of aggression while U.S. mediation efforts for a solution were ongoing.
Hezbollah’s first flight of an UAV into Israeli airspace for reconnaissance purposes occurred in November 2004, and successfully caught Israeli intelligence off-guard. A Mirsad-1 drone (an updated version of the Iranian Mohajer drone, used for reconnaissance of Iraqi troops during the Iran-Iraq War), flew south from Lebanon into Israel, hovered over the town of Nahariya for about 20 minutes, and then returned to Lebanon before the Israeli Air Force could intercept it.
Hezbollah’s drones that were shot down in 2006 were armed with explosive warheads and were primarily sent to stir panic in Israel. As their sophistication grows, Hezbollah’s drones will be increasingly valuable for reconnaissance missions, gathering information on troop movements and facilities, preparing for future infiltration, and calibrating rocket attack and rocket targeting in real time.
The IDF also regularly utilizes drone surveillance and violates Lebanese airspace, but does so on the basis that it is monitoring and tracking the activities of Hezbollah, which the Lebanese government should be keeping in check.
Legal, moral and humanitarian concerns are being raised in connection with the use of drones for targeted killings by the U.S. in Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan and by Israel in the Gaza Strip. Drones could potentially carry and launch weapons of mass destruction including biological and chemical weapons. In the hands of violent non-state actors, drones could be used to kill civilians as a substitute for on-ground suicide attacks.
Exports of drones are a major multi-billion dollar business for both Israel and the U.S. Currently, the sales of drones is limited to drones for reconnaissance missions and civilian use, but the export of large drones for military purposes raises issues for arms control and nonproliferation.
Hezbollah’s future drone usage will be closely aligned with political decisions made by the Iranian state. Although information about Iran’s drone fleet remains hidden, Iran’s drones have made vast strides in range, speed and lethality. In May 2014, Iran unveiled what it claimed was a reverse-engineered copy of the CIA RQ-170 stealth reconnaissance drone, which the Iranian Armed Forces’ electronic warfare unit supposedly commandeered and safely landed in Iran in December 2011. With a copy of an advanced American drone, Iran’s drone capabilities have reached another level, which may allow the country to play the dominant role it is seeking in Middle Eastern geopolitics.
While only a handful of countries (Israel, the U.S., Russia, China, India, and Pakistan) presently manufacture military drones, now is the time to give serious thought to a convention or treaty to ban the manufacture and use of UAVs for military purposes. Military drones should have no continued presence in the international atmosphere.
Drone strikes kill civilians, create more terrorists than they kill, provoke animosity between foreign countries, and foster a dangerous disconnect between the horrors of war and those carrying out the strikes. Their usage ultimately violates the sovereignty of other countries, provokes the worst humanitarian crises in modern history, such as the Yemen humanitarian crisis, and utterly devalues human life.
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