Israeli drone crashes in Lebanon amid tensions with Syria

Israeli soldiers gather near Moshav Sde Eliezer, in northern Israel along the border with Lebanon on July 26, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 26 July 2020

Israeli drone crashes in Lebanon amid tensions with Syria

  • The military said the drone went down over Lebanese territory “during operational activities” along the border
  • Israel has beefed up its troop presence along the borders with Lebanon and Syria since Friday's strikes on Syria

JERUSALEM: Israel said a military drone crashed in southern Lebanon on Sunday as regional tensions ran high, days after a series of cross-border exchanges between Israel and Syria and the killing of a Hezbollah militant in an Israeli airstrike near the Syrian capital.
The Israeli military issued the statement shortly after Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with army brass near the country’s northern frontier. The military said the drone went down over Lebanese territory “during operational activities” along the border. Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that Israeli warplanes and drones flew over southern Lebanon throughout Sunday.
Israel has beefed up its troop presence along the borders with Lebanon and Syria since Friday's strikes on Syrian army positions. Israel says those strikes were in response to unspecified munitions fired on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The exchanges came after Monday's air raid on Damascus — believed to have been carried out by Israel — that killed five foreign fighters, including a member of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran.
Gantz said in a statement that Israel “has no interests in Syria or Lebanon, aside from security interests, and we will continue to protect them.
“We are not seeking unnecessary escalation, but if we are tested — we have high operative capacity, which I hope we will not need to put to use,” Gantz said.
Israel and Hezbollah fought to a draw in a month-long war in Lebanon in 2006. Hezbollah has previously vowed to respond to the killing of its forces in Syria.
Earlier Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was “acting according to our consistent policy of not allowing Iran to entrench itself militarily on our northern border." He said Lebanon and Syria “bear responsibility for any attack against Israel emanating from their territories.”
Israel has long considered Iran a regional nemesis because of its nuclear program — which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes only — as well as Iran's military presence in Syria supporting President Bashar Assad, and its backing of armed groups like Hezbollah.
Israel has carried out scores of airstrikes in Syria in recent years targeting Iranian forces there, and has targeted what Israel says are weapons shipments bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Israeli military rarely comments on these strikes.
Deputy Hezbollah leader Naim Kassem told the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV station that the group received a message through the United Nations representative in Lebanon after last week’s airstrike near the Syrian capital in which the Hezbollah operative was killed.
“We did not give an answer and we will not reveal the content of the message,” Kassim said, without directly stating the message was from Israel. He declined to comment on whether Hezbollah is planning to carry out an attack in retaliation for the death of its operative in Syria last week.
Kassim said he does not expect war with Israel in the coming months, but added that if Israel starts a war, Hezbollah is ready to fight back.


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”