THE JEENYUS CORNER
BEIRUT (AP) — Israeli warplanes swooped low over Lebanese villages Sunday in a menacing show of force apparently aimed at the Hezbollah guerrilla group after a mysterious raid by an unmanned aircraft that was shot out of Israeli skies over the weekend.
Israel was still investigating Saturday’s incident, but Hezbollah quickly emerged as the leading suspect because it has an arsenal of sophisticated Iranian weapons and a history of trying to deploy similar aircraft.
The Israeli military said the drone approached Israel’s southern Mediterranean coast and flew deep into Israeli airspace before warplanes shot it down about 20 minutes later. Israeli news reports said the drone was not carrying explosives and appeared to be on a reconnaissance mission.
Military officials would not say where the drone originated or who produced it, but they ruled out the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas, a group not known to possess drones. That left Hezbollah as the most likely culprit and suggested the drone may have flown with the blessing of Iran. Tensions are high between Israel and Iran over Tehran’s suspect nuclear program.
“It is an Iranian drone that was launched by Hezbollah,” Israeli lawmaker Miri Regev, a former chief spokeswoman for the Israeli military, wrote on her Twitter feed. “Hezbollah and Iran continue to try to collect information in every possible way in order to harm Israel.”
She did not offer any further evidence and was not immediately available for comment.
Hezbollah officials would not comment on speculation that the group had launched the drone.
The Israeli dailies Yediot Ahronot and Maariv published maps based on military “estimates” that claimed to show the route taken by the drone.
The maps said the aircraft took off south of the Lebanese coastal city of Sidon, headed south and then turned east over the Gaza Strip and into Israel. Yediot also claimed the drone was made in Iran.
The Israeli military said it began tracking the aircraft over the Mediterranean but waited until it was over an empty, desert area to bring it down in order to avoid casualties on the ground.
Sunday’s Israeli air raids, buzzing over pro-Hezbollah villages in southern Lebanon, appeared to be aimed at reminding the guerrilla group of Israel’s air superiority.
At times of heightened tensions, the Israeli air force often carries out mock raids over Lebanese territory. Israel has U.S.-made F-15 and F-16 warplanes, but it was not clear exactly what type of planes were flown Sunday.
Lebanon’s national news agency said the planes flew low over the market town of Nabatiyeh and nearby villages.
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