A highly-placed Israeli source elaborates on a partially truthful Ynetnews report that Israel destroyed an advanced Shoval (“Heron”) drone that was on a mission over the sea between Tel Aviv and Netanya. Israel did indeed destroy the drone, one of the most advanced in its fleet. Here is what its manufacturer had to say about it after its October 2012 launch:
The drone, called Heron 1 (Shoval), will help improve Israel’s Naval and Air Force’s recognition of unknown or hostile ships and aircraft even if they are 300 km away, with a radar that can reach Turkey, Cyprus or Egypt.
“The system can inquire and intercept any object within just a few minutes,” an IAI official told the newspaper on Sunday, after the Shoval drone had concluded a demonstration in which the new cameras captured every detail of a ship sailing the Mediterranean.
“The Shoval has satellite communication abilities, which means any footage it takes will be broadcasted [sic] online to distant location like Paris [!],” the official said.
But there was no “malfunction.” Rather an unknown hostile force exploited a breach in the navigation system and took control of the vehicle.
Once the drone became unresponsive, the IAF realized either it could be crashed into a sensitive Israeli target or else hijacked to Lebanon or Syria. At that point, the IAF launched flares over Israeli territory in a search to find it. They must’ve succeeded, which enabled them to destroy it.
I do not know who took control of the aerial vehicle. It was either Iranian forces or Hezbollah (or both). That makes it likely the drone was patrolling over Lebanon or Syria. The Ynetnews report said it was on a “routine” mission, which could mean anything or nothing.
Further support for my source may be found in the decision to ground the entire Shoval fleet. The hijackers discovered a weakness in the drone’s software controls and they can’t be flown again until it’s fixed.
Last year, the Iranians claimed to have done precisely the same thing to a U.S. Predator drone over Iranian territory. Though we claimed there had been a navigational malfunction, our protestations sounded hollow. The current incident points to a hitherto unknown or unappreciated ability by the Iranians to penetrate Israeli aerial guidance systems.
Just before the Shoval upgrade was announced above, Hezbollah had launched a drone which penetrated 30 miles into Israeli territory near the Dimona nuclear plant. A few weeks ago, Israel shot down another drone that may’ve been launched from Lebanon.
I should note that Hezbollah, with the likely help of the Iranians, compromised the IDF communications systems to devastating effect during the 2006 Lebanon war.
In 1997, Hezbollah intercepted the transmission (Hebrew) of Israeli aerial surveillance images which allowed the militant group to ambush IDF navy commandos, causing the death of 12. At the time, the army told the public the ambush had not been planned, but the result of a lucky break for Hezbollah. Then Hassan Nasrallah released the stolen images, which put egg on the face of lying Israeli generals. They were even forced to acknowledge that some intelligence data of this sort wasn’t even encrypted, thus allowing it to be intercepted.
Israel likes to tout its military invincibility and superiority over its enemies. Incidents like this remind us there are large chinks in the IDF’s armor.