TEL AVIV — Last month's violation of Israeli airspace by a Syrian-based Russian UAV was "very likely" the result of human error, according to preliminary findings of an Israeli Air Force (IAF) probe published Monday by Israel's Ha'aretz daily.

"The probe indicates there were at least seven phone conversations on the hotline between the IAF and the Russian forces in Syria to ascertain that the drone was Russian and to send it back, but at first the Russians denied it was their drone," wrote veteran military reporter Amos Harel.

"Only later … did Russia admit to the drone's entry into the airspace above the Golan [Heights] and explain that it was a result of human error."

According to the report on the July 17 border breach, the drone took off from a Russian-controlled base near Damascus, crossed Israel's northern border and flew southwestward "until it was identified patrolling in circles above a kibbutz in the Galilee panhandle."

By then, with a pair of F-16s scrambled and Patriot Pac-2 batteries poised to shoot, IAF officers made "at least seven phone calls in the course of about 20 minutes," all of which were met with Russian claims that none of their drones had crossed into Israeli territory.

After the IAF ascertained that all of its UAVs were accounted for, orders were given to shoot down the intruder. But the UAV managed to evade not one, but two Patriot anti-air interceptors and an air-to-air missile launched by one of the F-16s.

At the time of the incident, the Israeli military spokesman insisted the intruding UAV had been detected before it breached national airspace and was "fully tracked" by the IAF. According to his July 17 statement, "No hit of the target was identified," despite "three intercept attempts [that] took place as per procedure."

Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at

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