Lebanese political party Hezbollah denied on Thursday that it had sent a drone over the Mediterranean sea, hours after the Israeli air force said it shot down an unmanned aircraft near Haifa.
“Hezbollah denies sending any unmanned drone towards occupied Palestine,” the Hezbollah-affiliated television channel al-Manar said.
Israel’s deputy defense minister earlier put the blame squarely on Hezbollah.
“An unmanned aircraft (UAV) was identified approaching the coast of Israel and was successfully intercepted by IAF aircraft five nautical miles off the coast of Haifa at approximately 2:00 pm today,” the military said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was inside an army helicopter when he was given the news of the drone, and was then forced to land until it was shot down.
“I see this attempt to breach our borders as extremely grave,” the premier said. “We will continue to do whatever we must to protect the security of Israel’s citizens.”
Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters the drone had been identified moving down the Lebanese coast.
“A little after 1:00 pm, our aerial defense system identified (a drone) moving from north to south along the coast of Lebanon,” he said.
“Aircraft, helicopters and combat airplanes were alerted to the area and after confirmation that it was an unfriendly aircraft, they were approved to shoot it down.”
But despite reports blaming Hezbollah, Lerner was cautious, saying the incident was still being investigated.
“We don’t know where the aircraft was coming from and where it was actually going,” he said, adding that the navy was “searching for the remains of the UAV” as part of the probe.
But Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon accused the Lebanese movement of being behind the attack.
“We’re talking about another attempt by Hezbollah to send an unmanned drone into Israeli territory,” he told army radio, describing it as “another attempt to destabilize the Middle East.”
Israel would respond to the incident in its own time, he said.
“We are ready and we will react as necessary,” Danon warned. “They know not to provoke us.”
Hezbollah has previously claimed responsibility for several drone incursions in the past years, most recently on October 7.
Israel frequently stages incursions into Lebanese airspace, often sending drones at low altitude in South Lebanon.
In March, UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti slammed the Israeli overflights, calling them a violation of Lebanese sovereignty and of the UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the July 2006 war.