The Iranian drone that an Israeli chopper shot down was a copy of an American unmanned aerial vehicle that Iran intercepted six years ago, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus and Yuval Steinitz, a minister in Israel’s security cabinet, said the drone was based on a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel, the Washington Post reported.
Experts who examined footage of the downed drone released by the IDF agreed that the shape closely resembled that of Iran’s Saeqeh, or “Thunderbolt,” drone, which was based on a CIA-operated Sentinel captured by Iran in 2011.
Conricus said he could not specifically confirm that the drone was a Saeqeh and that the wreckage was still being examined. Iran has produced several other drones based on the RQ-170, according to reports.
“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.
In May 2014, Iran said it had built a copy of the drone after reverse engineering most of its technology, according to CNN, citing the Tasnim News Agency.
Tal Inbar, an Israeli aviation expert for the Fisher Institute, did identify the drone as a Saeqeh, which Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps first used in 2016, the Times of Israel reported.
But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said this weekend that the Israeli claims were “too ridiculous to be addressed.”
“The government and army of Syria as an independent country have a legitimate right to defend [the country’s] territorial integrity and counter any type of foreign aggression,” he said, CNN reported.
A spokesman for the US Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Mideast, declined to comment.
Israeli authorities said the drone, operated by Iran from a base inside Syria, traveled 3 or 4 miles into its territory early Saturday before being shot down.
The IDF had tracked the drone from its launch inside Syria, entering Israeli airspace at 4:50 a.m. local time Saturday.
It was shot down by an Apache attack helicopter and its remains fell north of the Israeli town of Beit She’an.
Conricus said the IDF knew from the drone’s flight path that it had a specific mission — but he wouldn’t provide any details, nor would he say if it had been armed.
He confirmed that it was the first time an Iranian drone had crossed into Israeli airspace since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.
IDF Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar insisted that the IDF allowed the drone to cross into Israeli territory in order to destroy it.
“To this day there have not been any infiltrations of Iranian UAVs and we will not tolerate any future infiltration attempts,” he told CNN.
After the drone was shot down, Israel deployed F-16 fighter jets across the border to strike at the Iranian T-4 command center. They came under heavy Syrian anti-aircraft fire.
The two pilots of one F-16 ejected before it crashed in the Galilee region in northern Israel. One of the pilots was severely wounded and the other suffered light injuries.
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