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A mystery-submarine’s intrusion into Israeli territorial waters last week provided the sequel for another unfinished tale: the one about Israel’s failure to intercept a Hizballah drone that flew over the northern Israeli town of Nahariya on November 8.
Examination of the images the drone MIrsad-1 carried back to its senders, as shown four days later by Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah over al Manar television Friday, November 12, raises serious questions in the minds of debkafile‘s military sources.
For unknown reasons, the Patriot anti-missile missile battery normally posted in western Galilee to monitor Israel-Lebanese border airspace had been removed on that particular day. Deployed there was only an improved Hawk missile battery. The Patriot’s radar would have spotted the Hizballah drone and transmitted the information early enough for it to be downed. Because the Hawk’s radar is incapable of picking up a small flying object, the little invader-craft had at least 12 minutes for leisurely surveillance without fear of being shot down by Israel’s anti-air defenses or air force.
Did the Iranian Revolutionary Guards deployed with Hizballah in south Lebanon, who launched the unmanned aerial vehicle, strike lucky? Or did they know that the Patriot had been removed? If the latter, did they find out about the missing Patriot from cross-border observation or from a tipster on the Israeli side?
That is not the only mystery. The images Nasrallah showed over TV, which he claimed were taken by the November 8 overflight of Mirsad-1 SHOWED A PATRIOT BATTERY PRESENT.
The alternative explanations for this odd fact are of prime intelligence significance.
1. Were the pictures taken by UAVs which entered Israeli skies undetected on dates prior to November 8? If so, the Patriot radar which was present would seem to be as ineffective as the Hawk system’s, or –
2. Did the Iranians or the Hizballah obtain the televised photos from another source, possibly even a private satellite company? Such a firm may also have tipped them off on the date of the Patriot’s removal from western Galilee. If so, such a commercial satellite firm would be guilty of engaging in espionage.
3. Or maybe the information came from a Hizballah spy resident in the district.
Two days after the drone incident, on November 10, the Israeli navy sighted a foreign submarine which had intruded 3 miles into Israel’s territorial waters opposite the border town of Rosh Hanikra, just north of Nahariya. It vanished as soon as it was detected.
debkafile‘s military sources point out that the eastern Mediterranean is teeming with submarines. Several times a month, one or more may stray into Israeli waters, but as soon as they discover their error, they turn tail. In the incident of November 10, the intruder made haste to submerge and sail away before Israeli warships appeared on the scene.
Our military sources, speculating on its identity, doubt that the submarine was one of the three Russian-made 3,000-ton Kilo subs known to belong to the Iranian navy. They are 72 meters long, have a crew of 52 and are capable of navigating the Mediterranean. But to reach Israeli waters would take Iranian sub at least a couple of weeks. It would have to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and through the Straits of Gibraltar. Although capable of voyaging for 45 days, such a sub would need to drop anchor en route to take on fresh supplies, so exposing itself to Western or Israeli intelligence surveillance.
It is far more likely that the unidentified sub was Western and came close to the Israeli coast to find out what caused the failure of Israel’s early warning systems to catch the flying invader two days earlier and see if Israel had plugged the hole in its radar. The sub would also have been instructed to see if the Patriot battery had been repositioned – or perhaps different kinds of electronic tracking and interception devices. After collecting some answers, the sub headed out.
In its Issue 181, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported:
Officers and engineers of the Revolutionary Guard’s “flying objects” program built Mirsad 1 and decided when to launch it, causing some fallout between two of Israel’s enemies, Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, and Iran. The quarrel was sharp but not serious. The two countries have a commonality of interests and share a place on the US state department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism.
In its complaint to Teheran, Syria made several key arguments that Iran will have to take into consideration.
Facing possible international sanctions over its military presence in Iraq, Syria told Iran that its “act of provocation” could only hurt Syrian interests. Akhtari tried to play down Syria’s concerns, saying the world was fully preoccupied with the US battle for Fallujah and Yasser Arafat’s demise. But still, Syria demanded a detailed explanation from Iran and a promise to abide by the existing understandings between the two countries and refrain from similar action in the future.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, Iran has invested heavily over the past decade in its UAV program. Under international sanctions, including a weapons embargo, the Islamic republic has been forced to carry out all of its UAV research and development alone and buy parts and technology on the black market.
In the early 1990s, the Iranians procured advanced remote-controlled model airplanes for the study of UAV technology. It was not an auspicious start: all of the tests conducted in the first three years of the program failed. But last year, Iran bought lightweight engines made in Japan, Germany and even the United States for its UAVS. It has built three types of drones and most were tested successfully, although the Mirsad-1 was the only one tried in field conditions.
The al-Mirsad-2 was built for naval photography. It has been tested twice, both times taking photographs of US warships in the Persian Gulf. The Americans shot at a slow-flying Iranian UAV- but missed. Iran’s third drone, whose name is unknown in the West, is to be used for long-range reconnaissance flights. It is not yet operational.
Iran is busy further upgrading its UAVs. DEBKA-Net-Weekly has learned that Iranian agents operating in the United States recently tried to recruit engineers of Iranian origin working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The CIA is aware of these contacts and the scientists were warned against going to parties or accepting invitations to events where the guests include people with known or covert connections to the Iranian regime.
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