After Hezbollah stepped forward to claim responsibility for firing the drone that Israel shot down last week, Hezbollah Secretary-General Said Hassan Nasrallah told the Hezbollah-affiliated outlet Al-Manar that the drone was part of a “special operation,” and while he expected that the drone would be downed, “the achievement is that it flew hundreds of kilometers in an area full of [radar].”
Nasrallah added that it was Hezbollah’s “natural right to send surveillance drones anytime we want.”
“This trip is not the first, and it will not be the last, and with these aircrafts we could reach many locations,” he warned.
Al-Manar also released simulations of the drone’s flight over Israel.
Iran, who Hezbollah pointed to as the origin of this particular drone, unveiled a new “indigenous” drone in September, the BBC reported at the time, called the “Shahed” with a range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles).
Iran announced the new drone while President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, at which time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again threatened action against Iran in response to its escalating nuclear program.
“We do not take seriously the threats of the Zionists," Ahmadinejad told reporters in New York during the U.N. trip. "We have all the defensive means at our disposal and we are ready to defend ourselves."
Nasrallah said he would “leave it for the Israelis” to deduce what the drones would be capable of.
Hezbollah also claimed that Israel has violated Lebanese airspace over 20,000 times with its own drones, Israeli intelligence outlet DEBKAfile reported, and that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is now “on guard” for further drones originating from Hamas-controlled Gaza.
IDF sources told DEBKAfile on Friday that they believe Hezbollah officials have arrived in Gaza to train Hamas technical crews on how to assemble and launch drones at such a speed so as not to be caught by Israeli surveillance.
Hezbollah also continues to deny any role in the Syrian conflict, now dragging through its 19th month, and which recently entered a new chapter with the introduction of border-crossing shelling, five Turkish civilian deaths, a grounded Syrian plane in Ankara on suspicion of Russia trying to feed weapons to Damascus. And now the U.S. has joined NATO in announcing its backing of Turkey against any further Syrian interference, AFP reported .
The U.S. may or may not be getting its hands physically dirty as well. On Friday Turkish officials had to fend off claims by the Times of London newspaper that American and French troops had been seen at the Incirlik airbase on Turkish-Syrian border, a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed that Washington was giving Turkey both humanitarian and weapons aid, and that the U.S. has “worked with them to do what we can to monitor the situation,” Panetta told reporters in Brussels.
The plane incident has now pulled Russia into the ring, as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the plane was transporting “equipment and ammunition” provided by Russia. A Russian diplomat speaking to the Russian newspaper Kommersant said that there were “no arms on the plane, but simply spare parts for radar and manuals explaining their usage,” Hurriyet Daily translated. Erdogan countered, saying Turkish officials had found “Russian-made munitions” onboard.
Syria may be too busy cannibalizing itself to have the energy to do more than gnaw at Turkey, but the plane incident does pose a risk of deteriorating Russian-Turkish ties. Russia was furious about the incident, claiming that Turkish authorities threatened the lives of the people on board the plane.
Russia is Turkey’s main supplier of natural gas, Turkish outlet Zaman said, and despite growing business and political connections, the Syrian crisis has sharply divided the two would-be allies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed back a trip to Turkey that was to have taken place this week until Dec. 3. Erdogan insisted that both sides had agreed to the postponement.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world seems to be getting in line around a possible Turkey-Syria confrontation. The U.S. threw its hat in the ring for Turkey on Friday, as Turkey stepped up its troop presence along the border once again, Zaman reported. They’ve now deployed up to 250 tanks in the Sanliurfa, Mardin and Gaziantep provinces, while two fighter planes were scrambled on Friday, Reuters said.
“We strongly support the government of Turkey’s decision to inspect the plane,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.
“Any transfer of any military equipment to the Syrian regime at this time is very concerning. And we look forward to hearing more from the Turkish side when they get to the bottom of what they found."
The German Embassy in Ankara also announced on Friday that German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will be visiting to engage in talks over the Syrian crisis.