Israel has not yet verified claims that Hezbollah militants in Lebanon used an armed unmanned air system (UAS) to attack a target with a missile.
Iranian sources claim Hezbollah employed an armed UAS to attack positions of "al-Nusra" – the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda – on the Syrian-Lebanese border.A video included with one report by an Iranian news agency provides no clear proof that the target was attacked using a missile launched from an unmanned asset.
"We see a target hit by something," saysTal Inbar, a senior researcher at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Israel. "I'm not sure what caused the explosion and I'm not sure where was it filmed.”
Last year Iran unveiled what it claimed is a missile-equipped UAS.According to Tehran the air vehicle has a range of 1,080nm (2,000km) and is capable of launching air-to-surface missiles.TheIslamic Republic News Agency also reports that thetype can be flown to an altitude of 25,000ft and remain airborne for a maximum of 16-30h.
A few months prior to that announcement Iran unveiled the Shahed 129 UAS, which it claims has a range of 920nm and a capability to launch missiles. The design bears a striking visual resemblance to Elbit Systems' Hermes 450.
Speaking on 21 September, Israeli sources noted that in recent years Iran has claimed to have developed "very advanced" weapon systems that in fact were no more than "advanced toys".
While the report of an armed UAS being in the hands of Hezbollah is still being evaluated, the increasing use of unmanned air vehicles by terrorist organisations in the region is a fact.
On 14 July an Israeli air force Raytheon Patriot surface-to-air missile was used to shoot down a small UAS launched by Hamas from the Gaza Strip. Israelisources believe the aircraft was sent into Israel in order to check the reaction time of the nation's armed forces.
Intelligence sources had previously cautioned that Hamas was making an effort to deploy UAS, and to arm them with explosives.
The Israeli air force is adapting some of its systems and adding others to be ready for a UAS attack in future confrontations.
Unmanned aircraft were flown into Israeli airspace from Lebanon on at least two occasions in 2012 and 2013, apparently on photography missions and in a bid to probe air defences. Both were shot down by air force fighters.
Israeli sources say the future threat – especially from Lebanon – could range from militants using radio-controlled aircraft carrying a small explosive load to UAS fitted with much larger payloads.