Israel Shoots Down Drone Near Haifa Coast

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -

Israel shot down a drone Thursday as it approached the country’s northern coast, the military said. Suspicion immediately fell on Hizbullah, though the terrorist group in Lebanon denied it sent the craft.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was in a helicopter in northern Israel at the time of the incident, said he viewed the infiltration attempt with “utmost gravity.”

Officials said Netanyahu was informed of the unfolding incident as he was flying north for a cultural event with members of the country’s Druse minority. They said his helicopter briefly landed while the drone was intercepted before Netanyahu continued on his way.

“On my way here in the helicopter, I was told that there is an infiltration attempt of a drone inside the skies of Israel,” he said in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Daliyat al-Carmel. “We will continue to do everything necessary to safeguard the security of Israel’s citizens.”

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that Israeli warplanes flew over the town of Jezzine and the highlands of the Iqlim al-Tuffah province, a Hizbullah stronghold in southern Lebanon, Thursday morning.

The Lebanese army also reported Israeli jets violated Lebanese air space on Tuesday and Wednesday. Israel has stepped up its flights over Lebanon amid fears that Hizbullah is taking advantage of the chaos caused by the Syrian civil war.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said the unmanned aircraft was detected as it was flying over Lebanon and tracked as it approached Israeli airspace.

Lerner said the military waited for the aircraft to enter Israeli airspace, confirmed it was “enemy” and then an F-16 warplane shot it down.

The drone was flying at an altitude of about 6,000 feet and was downed roughly five miles off the Israeli coast near Haifa. Lerner said Israeli naval forces were searching for the remains of the aircraft.

He said it still was not clear who sent the drone, noting it flew over Lebanese airspace, but that it could have originated from somewhere else.

Other military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to talk to the media, said they believed it was an Iranian-manufactured aircraft sent by Hizbullah. The Lebanese group sent a drone into Israeli airspace last October that Israel also shot down.

Netanyahu repeatedly has warned that Hizbullah might try to take advantage of the instability in neighboring Syria, a key Hizbullah ally, to obtain what he calls game-changing weapons.

A senior Lebanese security official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Lebanon had no information on Thursday’s incident.