"Iranian" Drone that Entered Israeli Airspace Called an "American Knock-off"; Moscow Accuses US of Covert Drone Attack
February 11, 2018
Judah Ari Gross / Times of Israel & Vladimir Isachenkov / The Associated Press
The Iranian drone shot down by the Israeli Air Force early Saturday morning appears to have been a relatively new stealth model whose design was stolen from an American unmanned aerial vehicle that was captured by Iran in 2011, according to aviation analysts.
Iranian UAV that Entered Israeli Airspace
Seems to Be American Stealth Knock-off
IAF's second-in-command says drone was
advanced and based on Western technology
Judah Ari Gross / Times of Israel
(February 10, 2018) -- The Iranian drone shot down by the Israeli Air Force early Saturday morning appears to have been a relatively new stealth model whose design was stolen from an American unmanned aerial vehicle that was captured by Iran in 2011, according to aviation analysts.
On Saturday night, the Israel Defense Forces released photographs of the destroyed Iranian drone, which further enforced the view that the Iranian drone was a stealth model known as a -- Thunderbolt, in English. These images joined video footage distributed by the army of the moments before the drone was shot down.
Michael Cruickshank, working with the air-force-focused Aviationist website, identified the Iranian drone as a Saeqeh that was first debuted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2016, based on the video footage.
Tal Inbar, an Israeli aviation expert for the Fisher Institute, agreed with the assessment, but noted that it was not clear from the video or the pictures which specific version of the drone was used.
The design for the Saeqeh, which looks something like a miniaturized B-2 bomber, is largely based on an American RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone, one of which Iran claimed to have shot down in December 2011, when it broadcast footage of the recovered aircraft.
Iranian media reported in October 2016 that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had built a new attack drone similar to the RQ-170 Sentinel.
Tehran also said in 2014 that it had successfully tested its own version of the drone. It said it managed to reverse-engineer the RQ-170 Sentinel, which was seized after it entered Iranian airspace from neighboring Afghanistan, and that it is capable of launching its own production line for the unmanned aircraft.
The video footage distributed by the IDF on Saturday showed both the interception of the drone by an IAF Apache attack helicopter and a subsequent airstrike on the mobile container from which it was controlled.
Cruickshank's and Inbar's assessments were not immediately confirmed by the IDF, but it did match descriptions of the drones by a top Israeli official.
Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar, the Israeli Air Force's second-in-command, said Saturday the Iranian drone was quite advanced and emulated Western technology. He added that the drone remained in Israel's airspace for a minute and a half, before being taken out by a combat helicopter over the city of Beit Shean, near the Jordanian border.
After the UAV was intercepted, Israel targeted at least 12 other sites "including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets that are part of Iran's military establishment in Syria," according to a military statement.
Bar said Israel inflicted significant damage on Syrian air defenses, while saying the Israeli response was "the biggest and most significant attack the air force has conducted against Syrian air defenses since Operation Peace for the Galilee" in 1982 during the First Lebanon War.
Syria's responding anti-aircraft fire led to the downing of an Israeli fighter plane in which two pilots were injured, one seriously and another lightly. Both were being treated at Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
Israel said the drone infiltration was a "severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty," and warned of further action against unprecedented Iranian aggression.
The events marked a dramatic escalation in tensions along Israel's northern border, and were part of the most serious confrontation between Israel and Iran since the start of the civil war in Syria in March 2011.
Bar described the incident as "Syrian chutzpah," and said Israel responded accordingly, adding that the airstrikes inflicted "significant harm to the Syrian Air Force's defenses" which included "anti-aircraft batteries purchased in recent deals [with the Russians]."
Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus warned that Syria and Iran were "playing with fire," but stressed his country was not seeking an escalation. "This is the most blatant and severe Iranian violation of Israeli sovereignty in the last years," Conricus told journalists in a phone conference.
He did not say whether the drone was armed or for reconnaissance, but alleged it "was on a military mission sent by Iranian military forces" from an "Iranian base" in the Palmyra area.
The Israeli military said its planes faced massive anti-aircraft fire from Syria that forced the two pilots to abandon an F-16 jet that crashed in northern Israel. Bar said the pilots did not report being hit but carried out ejection procedures.
"We are verifying what caused the pilots' injuries," Bar said, "whether from an anti-aircraft missile or from ejecting. It's not clear whether the missile hit the plane but we are assuming it did."
If the plane was in fact shot down by enemy fire, it could mark the first such instance for Israel since 1982 during the first Lebanon war.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, and IDF Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eizenkot were convening with top brass at military headquarters in Tel Aviv for emergency consultations on Saturday to discuss a possible further response.
Meanwhile, Iran and Syria claimed Israeli allegations that an Iranian drone infiltrated Israeli airspace were lies.
Agencies contributed to this report.
Russian Military Shows Drones It Says Came from Syria Raid
Vladimir Isachenkov / The Associated Press
MOSCOW (January 11, 2018) -- Russia's Defence Ministry on Thursday displayed a pair of drones that it said were captured following attacks on two Russian military bases in Syria, saying the attack required know-how, indicating it was carried out with outside assistance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin accused outside powers he wouldn't name of staging the attack to derail a deal between Russia, Turkey and Iran that is intended to reduce hostilities in Syria.
A Russian officer walks next to drones that allegedly attacked a Russian air base in Syria.
The Defence Ministry said Saturday's raid on the Hemeimeem air base in the province of Lattakia and Russia's naval facility in the port of Tartus involved 13 drones. It said seven were downed by air defense systems and the remaining six were forced to land by Russian electronic warfare units. Of the latter, three exploded when they hit the ground and three more were captured intact, the ministry said.
The Defence Ministry presented two primitive-looking drones at a briefing, arguing that they featured state-of-the art electronics that are less prone to jamming and allow precision strikes.
Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov, who heads the ministry's drone department, said the drones used in the weekend's raid on the Russian bases differed from the rudimentary craft earlier used by rebels in Syria. The attack required satellite navigation data that aren't available on the Internet, complex engineering works and elaborate tests, Novikov said.
"The creation of drones of such class is impossible in makeshift conditions," Novikov said. "Their development and use requires the involvement of experts with special training in the countries that manufacture and use drones."
Novikov didn't blame any specific country, but the Defence Ministry earlier referred to the "strange coincidence" of a U.S. military intelligence plane allegedly barraging over the Mediterranean Sea near the Russian bases when the attack took place.
The Pentagon strongly denied any involvement.
The Defence Ministry said the drones were launched from al-Mouazzara in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, more than 30 miles away from the Russian bases.
The attack heightened tensions between Russia and Turkey, which wields significant influence with some rebel groups in Idlib. The province has become the main rallying point for various rebel factions after Syrian government forces won control over large swathes of territory thanks to Russian support.
Russia has staunchly backed Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Turkey has supported his foes, but they struck a deal last year to set up de-escalation zones. The agreement has helped reduce fighting and warm ties between Moscow and Ankara. It also involved Iran, another backer of Assad.
Following the drone attack, the Russian Defence Ministry sent letters to Turkey's military leaders, asking them to deploy military observers to help prevent further attacks from Idlib on Russian assets.
Putin said Moscow knows who helped stage the attack on the Russian bases, but he didn't identify the country allegedly involved, saying only that it wasn't Turkey.
He added that he discussed the raid with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier Thursday, voicing confidence that Turkey's leadership and military had nothing to do with it.
"There were provocateurs, but they weren't the Turks," he said at a televised meeting with Russian newspaper editors Thursday. "We know who they were and how much they paid for that provocation."
Putin said the drones looked primitive but contained high-tech elements allowing precision satellite guidance and release of munitions.
He added that those behind the attack were aiming to thwart the Russia-Turkey-Iran agreement on de-escalation zones. "These were provocations aimed at thwarting earlier agreements," Putin said.
The drone raid on Russian bases came just weeks after Putin declared a victory in Syria and ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian forces from the country.
The attack occurred a few days after mortar and rocket shelling of the Hemeimeem air base. The incursions have raised doubts about the sustainability of the Assad government's recent victories and Moscow's ability to protect its gains in Syria.
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