Israel says it intercepted a drone fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip Monday, marking the first time the Palestinians have employed unmanned aerial vehicles in the conflict.
The military wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for the drone, which flew off the shore of the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod and was one of the “surprises” that Hamas warned last week would be sent on “special missions.” The appearance of a drone, which adds a new element to the conflict, comes as the Palestinian death toll continues to rise following the launch of Israel's so-called Operation Protective Edge.
Israel estimates that Hamas has fired 1,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip, with Israel’s Iron Dome defense shield eliminating a reported 90 percent of the missiles it intercepts. There have yet to be any reported Israeli casualties, but Israel has responded by firing more than 1,300 missiles into Gaza, killing 176 Palestinians and wounding 1,280 more at the latest count.
Tension between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian political and military force that has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007, has spiked in the weeks since three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank. Israel blamed Hamas for the slayings, and retaliated by arresting Hamas members and those close to them.
Monday was the first time Hamas has announced possessing drone capabilities, indicating that the Islamist group has risen to a new level of sophistication. The Lebanese group Hezbollah, which has ties to Hamas, is known to have fired a drone from Lebanon in recent years, though it was unclear if the two militias had shared technological capabilities.
The drone, in this case, was shot down by a Patriot surface-to-air missile, with Israeli officials telling the Associated Press that drones present a new challenge because it is uncertain whether the Iron Dome is capable of intercepting them.
“Hamas is trying everything it can to produce some kind of achievement, and it is crucial that we maintain our high state of readiness,” said Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. “The shooting down of a drone this morning by our air defense system is an example of their efforts to strike us in any way possible.”
Patriot SAMs are produced in the United States and have been provided to countries throughout the world, often used to shoot down fighter jets and helicopters. Steve Ganyard, an ABC News military consultant, said that with a price tag exceeding $1 million apiece, “using a Patriot to shoot down a UAV is like using a shotgun to kill a fly.”
Hamas also published a video Monday of what it claims is the drone in question: an “Ababil A1B” that had the goal of flying to Tel Aviv and bombing Israel's largest city. Hamas also claimed to have surveillance drones and drones capable of completing “suicide missions” in Israel, though those assertions are impossible to verify.
Israel has operated its own reconnaissance drones for more than 20 years.