TEL AVIV, Israel ― An Iranian drone that penetrated Israel’s airspace in February was armed with explosives and en route to carry out an attack within Israel before it was shot down, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Friday.
“The IDF has concluded that the Iranian aircraft was armed with explosives and was tasked to attack Israeli territory. By intercepting the Iranian UAV, IAF [Israeli Air Force] combat helicopters prevented the attack Iran had hoped to carry out in Israeli territory,” the statement read.
The IDF added that the drone was tracked by Israel the moment it went airborne in the early morning of Feb. 10, thus eliminating any threat posed before it was neutralized. The IDF did not say what type of attack the drone was to be used for, or if the alleged target is believed to have been civilian or military.
The drone took off from the T-4 air base near the Syrian city of Homs on Feb. 10 and was shot down that same day by an Israel Air Force Apache helicopter. After the drone was shot down, Israeli jets carried out airstrikes on the base, during which one Israeli F-16 was hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire during the raid. The pilot and navigator ejected in lower Galilee, escaping the wreckage with light injuries.
It was the first time an Israeli jet was shot down since the 1982 Lebanon War.
The same Syrian base was hit in an airstrike April 9, which Iran’s Tasnim News Agency said killed seven Iranian military personnel. Israel has refused to confirm it carried out the strike, though a New York Times article quoted an unnamed Israeli military source as saying Israel carried out the strike. That statement was denied by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. Iranian media identified Col. Mehdi Dehghan, a top official in Iran’s drone program, among those killed during the strike.
These incidents mark a serious escalation in the conflict between Israel and Iran, which so far has mainly been fought between Israel and Iran’s proxies Hamas and the Lebanese Shiite militia group Hezbollah.
The IDF would not confirm when it determined the drone was carrying explosives or if the timing of the publication Friday evening was meant as a response to recent, escalating threats by Iranian officials.