The IDF had advance intelligence about Hezbollah’s Saturday launch of three unarmed drones at the Karish gas field off Israel’s Mediterranean coast, believed to be an attempt to deliver a message to Israel.
One of the planes was shot down by an F-16 fighter jet and the other two by Barak 8 missiles launched from a Saar 5 Class Corvette INS Eilat. According to defense officials, the three were intercepted “at a safe distance from” the drilling rig.
Military spokesman Ran Kochav told Kan public radio on Sunday morning that the movement’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, “I think he will arrest the [Israel] Unawares.”
“But we are prepared, in terms of our early warning systems, and in terms of intelligence, navy and air force, to protect Israeli assets,” Kochav said.
He said that Hezbollah “suffered a major operational setback” in its failed attempt to deliver a message to Israel.
Kohav added that the incident did not violate Israel’s sovereignty, noting that the drones fell over the Lebanese territorial waters recognized by the United Nations.
Tensions around Karish have risen in recent weeks after a gas production vessel arrived in Israel to begin extraction operations in the offshore field. This provoked condemnation from Lebanon, who claimed parts of the field. Israel says Karish is part of its exclusive economic zone recognized by the United Nations.
Nasrallah recently threatened Israel over its plans to extract gas from the disputed offshore reserve, saying his organization is able to prevent such action, including by force.
But the Israeli military and Hezbollah said the drones launched on Saturday afternoon were unarmed, and were used for surveillance purposes and to demonstrate that the movement had the ability to approach the drilling rig.
Hezbollah said the mission was successfully completed and a “message was conveyed.”
Lebanon and Israel – which do not have diplomatic relations and are considered enemy states – have been holding indirect talks brokered by the United States for nearly two years to resolve the maritime border dispute.
But talks on this area have been frozen since last year, after Lebanon tried to transfer its claim to the area that Israel claims it owns. Last month, the Biden administration said recent meetings between its energy envoy and Israeli and Lebanese officials resulted in that. progress.
Israel and Lebanon each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea within their exclusive economic zones.
Both countries have economic interests in the region, which contains lucrative natural gas. Lebanon, which has been facing an economic crisis since late 2019, sees resources as a potential lifeline.
Last month, the Israeli army held a major military exercise in Cyprus, simulating a ground offensive deep into Lebanon in a possible war against the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
The movement has long been a significant opponent of the Israeli military, with an estimated arsenal of 150,000 rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel.
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