Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged on Thursday sending a drone aircraft which was shot down last weekend after flying some 25 miles (55 km) into Israel.
Nasrallah said in a televised speech that the drone was Iranian-made, according to Reuters.
“A sophisticated reconnaissance aircraft was sent from Lebanese territory ... and travelled hundreds of kilometers (miles) over the sea before crossing enemy lines and into occupied Palestine,” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah said the drone aircraft was shot down near the Dimona nuclear reactor.
“The drone flew over sensitive installations inside southern Palestine,” he said.
The rare admission by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah raises regional tensions at a sensitive time when the group’s backers, Syria and Iran, are under pressure.
Earlier Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hezbollah of launching the drone aircraft that entered Israeli airspace earlier this week.
The unmanned aircraft was shot down by Israel, but the infiltration marked a rare breach of Israel’s airspace. No one has taken responsibility, but Hezbollah has been the leading suspect because of its arsenal of sophisticated Iranian weapons and a history of trying to deploy similar aircraft, according to The Associated Press.
Touring southern Israel on Thursday, Netanyahu praised the efforts to prevent land infiltrations from Egypt. He mentioned that Israel has been equally successful “in the air, just like we thwarted the Hezbollah attempt last weekend,” his first public statement blaming Hezbollah.
Israel said the drone was not carrying explosives and appeared to be on a reconnaissance mission.
On at least one previous occasion, Hezbollah has launched a drone into Israel across its northern border with Lebanon. And in 2010, an Israeli warplane shot down an apparently unmanned balloon near the Dimona nuclear reactor in southern Israel, according to Reuters.
The Israeli military released a 10-second video clip of what it said was Saturday’s mid-air interception. In the video, a small, unidentified aircraft is seen moments before being destroyed by a missile fired from a fighter jet.
No Hezbollah fighters in Syria
Meanwhile, Hezbollah leader denied sending fighters into Syria to help its ally President Bashar al-Assad to quell the rebellion there.
“We did not fight alongside the regime until now. The regime did not ask us to do so and also who says that doing so is in Lebanon’s interest?” Nasrallah said.
Hezbollah’s opponents have accused it of sending fighters into Syria. Last month, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Nasrallah for helping Assad crush anti-government protests, as well as two other members for the group's “terrorist activities” in general.