Israel shoots down Hezbollah drone over Golan Heights
JERUSALEM - Israel's military fired a Patriot missile on Tuesday to bring down what it said was an Iranian-made drone operated by Hezbollah on a reconnaissance mission over the Golan Heights.
The drone took off from a Damascus military airport before entering the demilitarised zone approaching the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights, Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.
"We scrambled fighter jets but they did not engage the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle)," Conricus said.
"It was instead shot down by one Patriot missile that was fired by Israeli air defence soldiers."
He said details of the drone were still being evaluated, including whether or not it was armed. It fell in the buffer zone between the Israeli- and Syrian-controlled parts of the Golan.
Israel and Syria are still technically at war, though the armistice line on the Golan Heights had remained largely quiet for decades until civil war erupted in Syria in 2011.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
In April, Israel used a Patriot missile to shoot down what it identified as "a target" over the Golan Heights, with Israeli media reports saying it was a drone.
It has also seen regular spillover fire from the conflict in Syria and acknowledges carrying out dozens of air strikes there to stop advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.
Earlier this month, Syria's army accused Israeli warplanes of hitting one of its positions, killing two people in an attack that a monitor said targeted a site where the regime allegedly produces chemical weapons.
- UN speech -
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is due to address the UN General Assembly later Tuesday, has boosted his criticism of arch-foe Iran and Hezbollah in recent months.
He has particularly spoken out about Iran's presence in neighbouring Syria, where it is backing President Bashar al-Assad's regime, like Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.
When meeting US President Donald Trump on Monday, Netanyahu said he wanted to focus on the Iranian threat and Tehran's growing clout in Syria.
During a visit by UN chief Antonio Guterres last month, Netanyahu accused Iran of building sites to produce "precision-guided missiles" in both Syria and Lebanon.
On Tuesday, Conricus said "it is not the first time that we see Hezbollah operating UAVs for reconnaissance missions," but added that Israel decided to shoot it down after it entered the buffer zone.
He said the decision to do so had no link with Netanyahu's speech later in the day in which he is expected to focus on Iran.
Israel's military "will not allow any breach of Israeli sovereignty or any hostile attempts by organisations like Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad, Iranian terror organisations and Shia militias to harm the Israeli state and its citizens and we will respond swiftly and forcefully to any such attempts," he said.