Jerusalem (AFP) – The Israeli military said Saturday it had shot down three drones launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, heading towards an area where an Israeli gas platform was recently installed in the Mediterranean.
The launch of the plane appears to have been an attempt by Hezbollah to influence US-brokered negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime borders, an area rich in natural gas.
In a statement, the Israeli said the plane was spotted early and did not pose an “imminent threat”. However, the incident drew a stern warning from Israel’s interim prime minister, Yair Lapid.
“I stand before you at this moment and say to everyone who seeks our demise, from Gaza to Tehran, and from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: Do not test us,” Lapid said in his first address to the nation since taking office on Friday. . Israel knows how to use its power against every threat and against every enemy.
Israel earlier this month built a gas rig at the Karish field, which Israel says is within part of its internationally recognized economic waters. Lebanon claimed to be located in the disputed waters.
And Hezbollah issued a brief statement confirming the launch of three unarmed drones towards the disputed maritime issue over the Karish field on a reconnaissance mission. “The mission has been accomplished and the message has been received,” the statement said.
Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies that fought a month-long war in the summer of 2006. Israel considers the Iranian-backed Lebanese group the most serious direct threat to it, and estimates that it has about 150,000 rockets and missiles directed at Israel.
The United States said last week that mediator Amos Hochstein held talks with the Lebanese and Israeli sides. The exchanges were fruitful and presented the goal of narrowing differences between the two sides. “The United States will remain engaged with the parties in the coming days and weeks,” his office said in a statement last week.
The two countries, which have been officially at war since the creation of Israel in 1948, claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean. Lebanon hopes to exploit its offshore gas reserves while facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters on Saturday that Lebanon had received “encouraging information” about the border dispute, but refused to make further comments, saying that Beirut was awaiting “the official written response to the Lebanese side’s proposals.”
Associated Press writers Fares Akram in Gaza City and the Gaza Strip and Basem Marwa in Beirut contributed to this report.