Israel shoots down Hezbollah drones that were flying to investigate gas rig

Israel said that it had shot down three Hezbollah drones that had been heading towards one of its gas rigs that sits in an area of the Mediterranean Sea disputed between Lebanon and Israel. Tensions have mounted between Israel and Lebanon in recent months over ownership of the Karish gas field.

Military officials said that the drones were launched from Lebanon and were shot down by a combination of fighter jets and ship-mounted missiles. Hezbollah confirmed that it had launched the drones. It said that it had targeted the rig as part of a reconnaissance flight. “The mission was accomplished and the message was received,” a Hezbollah statement said.

Israel has claimed that the field lies within its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone, but Lebanon has also laid claim to parts of it.

Last week Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to use force to prevent Israel from operating the rig.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said the Islamist group was “preventing the state of Lebanon from reaching an agreement regarding maritime borders, which are critical to the economy and prosperity of the Lebanese nation”.

It was felt by many observers that Hezbollah’s drone move was mainly political. The day before the Israeli legislature voted to dissolve parliament and call the fifth election in four years. A caretaker prime minister was installed. The collapse of former Prime Minster Naftali Bennett’s multi-party coalition offers Benjamin Netanyahu, the opposition leader, a chance to return to power.