Israel: Iranian Drone Shot down over Weekend is Copy of US Aircraft

Israel: Iranian Drone Shot down over Weekend is Copy of US Aircraft

Monday, 12 February, 2018 - 13:15
A Patriot anti-missile battery is seen west of Jerusalem in 2012. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Israel announced on Sunday that the Iranian drone that it shot down over the weekend was a copy of a US aircraft Tehran had captured in December 2011, reported the Washington Post.

Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for Israel's military, and Yuval Steinitz, a minister in Israel's security cabinet, said the craft was a copy of a US RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone, which Iran claims to have reverse-engineered.

Israel carried out on Saturday a series of air strikes against Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria in retaliation to the Iranian drone’s violation of its airspace. The drone was launched from Syria.

This was followed by the downing of an Israeli F-16 jet by Syrian defense forces. The aircraft crashed in Israel, a first such incident since 1982.

Experts who examined footage of the drone being shot down and images of its wreckage released by the Israeli military agreed that the shape strongly resembled that of Iran's Saeqeh, or "Thunderbolt," drone, which was based on a CIA-operated RQ-170 captured by Iran, said the Post.

Conricus said that he could not specifically confirm that the drone was a Saeqeh and that the debris is still being examined. Iran has developed several other models based on the RQ-170.

"It was an Iranian copy of a US drone that they got hold of a few years ago and they duplicated," Steinitz told Israeli radio. Israel said the drone, operated by Iran from a base inside Syria, traveled three or four miles into its territory Saturday morning before being shot down.

The US RQ-170 drone captured by Iran in 2011 was part of a fleet of secret aircraft used by the CIA in an espionage campaign targeting Iran's nuclear facilities, according to US officials who spoke at the time.

The United States later requested that Iran return the drone, but Iran said it should apologize for invading its airspace instead. The US drones are mainly used for surveillance and reconnaissance and can be equipped to capture a range of intelligence material, said the Post.

Iran first tested its own version of the RQ-170 in 2014, and its Revolutionary Guard Corps unveiled the Saeqeh in 2016.

The Israeli military has declined to comment on whether the drone that was intercepted Saturday was armed but said it was on "a mission."

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