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Israel tackles mystery of drone's mission

| Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

JERUSALEM — The day after an unidentified drone penetrated Israeli airspace and was shot down by the Israeli air force on Saturday, speculation continued about the origin of the small craft and its mission.

According to statements from the Israeli military, the drone was spotted before entering Israeli airspace and remained under surveillance of ground and air forces until it was shot down in the northern Negev, a relatively remote area chosen to avoid damage to civilian areas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the military's response and said Israel would continue to protect its “land, sea and air borders.” The drone entered Israeli airspace along the country's southern Mediterranean coast. The army does not believe it was launched from the Gaza Strip despite emerging from the direction of the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave. Theories abound as to the make and mission of the drone, described by Israeli media as sophisticated.

“The immediate suspect is Hezbollah,” according to one theory published in Haaretz. The Lebanese-based, Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militia is believed to have used drones against Israel before, although coming from the south presents a twist. Another commentator on the website ynetnews.com raised the possibility that it was headed toward Dimona, site of Israel's nuclear reactor, to photograph the area, and that this was a message from Iran, testing Israel's capabilities.

Hezbollah has not commented officially, nor have other groups. Israeli media reported on Sunday that Iranian news coverage of the incident had a “jeering tone,” commenting that the infiltration exposed Israel's weakness.

The army was pleased with its response time and procedure and called the interception an “operational success,” but questions were raised about permitting the drone to spend at least 20 minutes in Israeli airspace before downing it. Asked what kind of images it might have transmitted back to its operators in the meantime, former chief of staff and air force commander Dan Halutz told Israeli radio that it was probably nothing that couldn't be seen on Google Earth.

Air force and intelligence crews collected the wreckage from the site of the interception and continue to piece together who sent the drone and why.

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