Monday, August 26, 2019

  • Monday, August 26, 2019
  • Elder of Ziyon
Arab media yesterday uniformly blamed Israel for the drone that exploded at a Hezbollah media office in Beirut. Al Jazeera's report was typical:

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said two Israeli drones, which came down in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut, amounted to an open attack on the country's sovereignty and an attempt to foment regional tensions.

"The new aggression ... constitutes a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation towards further tension," Hariri said on Sunday in a statement from his office.

Speaking later on Sunday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the fall of the two Israeli drones marked a dangerous development.

"The latest Israeli development is very, very, very dangerous," he said in a pre-scheduled televised speech.

Earlier, Mohammed Afif, a Hezbollah spokesperson, said a small, unmanned reconnaissance drone fell on the roof of a building that was housing Hezbollah's media office in the Moawwad neighbourhood in Dahyeh suburb on Sunday.

He said a second drone, which appeared to have been sent by Israel to search for the first drone less than 45 minutes later, exploded in the air and crashed nearby.

"We did not shoot down or explode any of the drones," Afif told The Associated Press news agency.
The thing is, this does not sound like an Israeli attack in the least. Israel has nothing to gain by attacking as minor a target as a Hezbollah media office or to attack heavily populated Beirut altogether.

Times of Israel notes:
The release of photographs of a drone that crashed in the Lebanese capital Beirut early Sunday morning cast doubt on the claim by the Hezbollah terror group that the craft belonged to the Israeli military, with some Israeli analysts speculating that the unmanned aerial vehicle was in fact an Iranian model.

Several well-connected Israeli commentators, including a former IDF general, said the drones appeared to be of an Iranian origin.

Former head of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin, who now heads the esteemed Institute for National Security Studies think tank, speculated that the drone may have been part of a plot by Tehran to send armed drones into northern Israel to bomb military installations and national infrastructure, an attack that the IDF said it foiled late Saturday night with a series of airstrikes in Syria.
The photo released by Hezbollah shows a quadcopter-style drone, more like one from a hobbyist than an army:

Quadcopter drones are used by Iranian-allied forces, and they can be used by professional armies in specific circumstances, but nothing about this situation makes it seem likely to be Israeli.

Typically, quadcopter drones can only be aloft for a half hour or so and require someone controlling it from relatively close by. If a professional army uses quadcopter style drones it would be more for a soldier to gain real time intelligence than to be a suicide mission. The best commercial drones have a range of less than 10 kilometers, but the distance from Israel's northern border to Beirut is over 60 km - and the chances that the IDF would put a soldier on the ground closer to Beirut for such a nebulous target seems very small.

Military drones meant to bomb a target are almost invariably fixed wing drones, which can go much longer distances and can carry a much larger payload.

Nothing about this attack points to Israel. 

If it wasn't from Israel, than who sent it?

Yadlin's guess that this was an Iranian drone and meant to be part of the operation that was meant to be launched mostly from Syrian territory is possible but also seems unlikely. At the very least, the Israeli intelligence that uncovered the Iranian plot would (or should) have known about this one, but they wouldn't have the range to hit Israel from Beirut either. The Iranian drones that were hit by Israel in Syria looked like fixed-wing drones, not quadcopters. Houthi drones being used more recently are also fixed-wing.

Could an anti-Hezbollah Lebanese group have been testing a booby trapped commercial drone and they chose a time when everyone would blame Israel? Could it have been a Hezbollah drone that went bad?

It seems almost certain that this explosives' laden drone was launched from within a couple of kilometers of Beirut. This means that someone else is testing or using quadcopter drones for small scale attacks within Lebanon. Hezbollah (and Iran) might be blaming Israel to avoid thinking about a threat closer to home.

UPDATE: Times of London has a plausible scenario where there was an extremely high value target in that building, meaning that it would indeed be worth the risk for a precision quadcopter drone strike - either from Lebanon or the Mediterranean.

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