Emily Lewis – The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Last month’s drone attack on Beirut’s southern suburbs was the “most dangerous” escalation by Israel since the July 2006 war, Lebanon’s defense minister said.
Addressing the August attack, Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab said Thursday that it was “perhaps the first time” that the Army had revealed the results of an investigation so publicly.
At 1:19 a.m. on Aug. 25, an Israeli coaxial X8 octocopter drone entered Lebanese airspace and crashed in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Forty-two minutes later, a second drone followed, and exploded, causing significant damage to nearby buildings.
“This is the most dangerous hostile act since [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 1701,” Bou Saab said, in reference to the agreement that brought an end to the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah and forbids either side from entering the other’s territory.
Israeli drones and warplanes enter Lebanese airspace on a daily basis. Bou Saab said that over the past two months, the Army had recorded at least 480 Israeli violations of Resolution 1701. However, unlike the majority of Israeli drones that enter Lebanese airspace, the minister described the 190-by-75-centimeter drone that crashed in August not as a surveillance aircraft, but a “custom-made” military drone designed to carry out attacks.
“There has been a clear change in the rules of engagement,” he added.
Lebanese soldiers then carried out the first drone and the remnants of the second, putting them on display for a roomful of journalists and TV cameras At the Defense Ministry in Yarze.
When it fell, the drone was carrying 4.6 kilograms of explosives, the minister said, holding up a black box that had contained the payload.
Bou Saab’s speech was accompanied by an extensive presentation that provided details on the drone’s specifications: four arms, eight motors, 32 kilograms, an average speed of 62 kph and average flight time of 40-60 minutes.
He said the drone had been “professionally” assembled using parts from a number of commercial companies.
The Army’s investigators were not only able to examine the physical structure of the drone, but also to access its flight log, allowing them to determine the path it took.
According to the Army’s findings, the drone set off from a “mission checkpoint” 11.7 kilometers into the Mediterranean Sea, opposite Israel’s Habonim airfield, south of Haifa.
Starting off on autopilot, the drone took flight at 100 meters above sea level, rose to 150 meters as it hit the Lebanese coast, and dropped again to 50 meters above sea level as it reached it presumed target in the southern suburbs. This translated to it hovering 14 meters above ground.
On its journey from the sea to the crash site, the drone flew over the southern Beirut district of Jnah. Bou Saab said this was particularly dangerous, as it crossed the flight path of passenger planes coming to land at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport.
“We did this today to not just show Lebanon, but also the international community … the severity of this attack that targeted a safe civilian area,” Bou Saab said.
Once it arrived at its destination, an Israeli ground team took control of the drone, relaying instructions via a larger unmanned aerial vehicle that was circling above.
Despite providing significant detail about the drone’s flight path and composition, Bou Saab was not able to give a definitive answer on the intended target of the attack last month.
“Only Israel knows the target,” he said.
The media office of Hezbollah, which enjoys widespread support in the southern suburbs, suffered damage following the second drone’s explosion, raising questions over its potential targeting. The Times of London, however, reported that the attack had aimed to hit an Iranian “precision missile” production site, based on a Western intelligence sources.
Bou Saab made no mention of Hezbollah or Iran being targeted, simply repeating his assertion that the site at which the drone was found was “a civilian area, open to all.”
Bou Saab said that the Israeli attack had reaffirmed Lebanon’s commitment to the ministerial statement issued by Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Cabinet earlier this year, which stresses Lebanon’s right to defend itself from attack.
“Lebanon always has a responsibility to protect its people,” he said, adding that the Army had already taken action in response to drone attacks. On Aug. 28, soldiers opened fire on three Israeli drones that flew over an Army position in the border town of Adaisseh.
In response to a question about possible coordination between the Army and Hezbollah in responding to Israel, Bou Saab said that the military “does not coordinate with anyone” and only operates based on decisions from the central command.
However, he said that intelligence forces in both Lebanon and in Europe were in contact with “everyone in Lebanon,” including Hezbollah.
A spokesperson from the European Union was not able to provide comment on Bou Saab’s claim before The Daily Star went to print.
On Sept. 1, Hezbollah launched two anti-tank missiles at an Israeli military vehicle, causing a brief exchange of fire between the two sides. However, the group’s leader, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, said that the attack was not in retaliation against the drone incident, but rather in response to the killing of two Hezbollah fighters in Syria.
He vowed to down any Israeli drones that entered Lebanon in the future.