Hezbollah launches unarmed drones at Israeli gas platform in disputed waters


The Israeli military said on Saturday it had intercepted three drones launched by Hezbollah en route to an offshore gas field in the Mediterranean Sea amid mounting tensions between Israel and Lebanon.

“Three hostile drones approaching airspace in Israel’s economic waters have been intercepted,” the military said in a statement, adding that the drones were headed for the Karish gas field. The drones were not armed and posed no risk, Israeli military sources said.

One drone was intercepted by a fighter jet and the other two by a warship, the sources added. The Iran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon confirmed in a statement that it had launched drones into the offshore area.

“Three unarmed drones were launched on Saturday afternoon at the disputed Karish field for reconnaissance missions,” the Shia group said in a statement. “The mission is accomplished,” it added, without citing any Israeli interception.

Lebanon condemned Israel last month when a ship chartered by Israel and operated by the London-listed Greek energy company Energean entered the Karish field. At the time, Hezbollah warned Energean not to continue its activities.

“The immediate goal must be to prevent the enemy from extracting oil and gas from the Karish gas field,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech. Hezbollah will not “stand by and do nothing in light of the (Israel) looting of Lebanon’s natural resources…which is the only hope for the salvation of the Lebanese people,” he warned.

Lebanon and Israel will resume negotiations on their sea border in 2020, but the process stalled over Beirut’s claim that the map used by the United Nations in the talks needed to be modified. Lebanon initially demanded 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of water which it said was in dispute, but then asked for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (552 square miles), including part of the Karish field.

Israel claims the field is in its waters and not part of the disputed territory under negotiation. Israel’s interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Saturday that “Israel knows how to use its strength against any threat, against any enemy,” without specifically mentioning the intercepted drones.

“I say to anyone seeking our destruction, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria, don’t test us,” he said in his maiden speech as prime minister. Lapid took office on Friday following the dissolution of the Israeli parliament, a prelude to new parliamentary elections to be held on November 1.

Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war and have no diplomatic relations. UN peacekeepers patrol the border. Israel fought a devastating war with Hezbollah in 2006 and considers the Iran-backed group one of its main enemies.

In mid-June, an official close to negotiations on the maritime border told AFP that Lebanon had made an offer to a visiting US mediator that withheld demands for parts of Karish but held a claim to separate territory.