Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Destination Palestine

Flying an unmanned spy drone over Israel-occupied Palestine is sending a clear message that the Islamic resistance movement has its priorities sorted out, reports Omayma Abdel-Latif

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What does sending a spy drone over Israeli airspace mean in terms of regional politics and the possible confrontation with Israel? In a break with a long tradition of shrouding its military and logistical capabilities in complete ambiguity, Hizbullah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah disclosed -- partly -- the truth behind the mysterious spy drone which flew over occupied Palestine for three hours on 8 October before Israeli air defences shot it down.

A day of silence following the incident was broken by Nasrallah's disclosure that the drone was Hizbullah's, leaving the Israeli military and political establishment in a state of utter embarrassment. "This was not the first time, neither will it be the last time," said Nasrallah in a speech on Thursday. "The resistance in Lebanon sent an advanced surveillance drone towards the sea. It flew hundreds of kilometres over the sea and then penetrated the enemy's new measures, entering south Palestine before being spotted by the Israeli air force, Nasrallah said.

It was the first time ever that Nasrallah delved into a detailed account of how the surveillance robotic weapon came into the hands of Hizbullah fighters. The Apabeel drone codenamed "Ayyoub" after one of Hizbullah's fighters was manufactured in Tehran and assembled by Hizbullah's young men, explained Nasrallah.

In previous speeches Nasrallah spoke of a "surprise weapon" in the possession of the resistance movement which was likely "to change the balance of power". Speculations had been awash as to what would be the nature of such a weapon. Some even suggested it was nuclear. But military analysts suggested it was air defences or anti-craft missiles.

In a recent speech marking Al-Quds day on 16 August, Nasrallah threatened that Hizbullah had capabilities that could change the face of Israel. He spoke then of Hizbullah's acquisition of missiles able to target extremely sensitive sites in the heart of Israel. Nasrallah affirmed that it was the resistance's natural right "to send surveillance drones anytime we want. This trip is not the first, and it will not be the last, and with these aircraft we could reach many locations."

Hizbullah's move raised concerns of a possible escalation in tension which would lead to an all-out confrontation between the Lebanese resistance movement and Israel. Yehia Dbouk, Israel affairs correspondent of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, pointed out that the incident proved an utter failure for Israeli intelligence and deterrent systems. "It calls into question the entire Israeli narrative about the country's readiness for a war with Hizbullah," wrote Dbouk. Despite the Israeli official that threatened of war against Lebanon, Dbouk and other analysts believe that Tel Aviv was keen on averting a large scale confrontation with the resistance movement and therefore such threats are loud but empty.

Evidently, the drone was a message from Hizbullah to Israel that, according to Nasrallah, "nothing distracts our basic team [of fighters] from the Israeli enemy, no matter what the regional and local challenges are." The drone incident has been viewed by Israeli analysts and Saudi-funded outlets as an attempt by Hizbullah to divert attention from the dire situation in Syria and Hizbullah's role in it. This is an issue which Hizbullah's secretary-general was compelled to revisit following fresh speculations accusing the resistance movement of being partner to the Syrian regime in suppressing the 19-months-old uprising.

Nasrallah reiterated his position on the Syrian crisis describing reports which accused Hizbullah of fighting alongside Al-Assad forces as "a lie". "Where are those martyrs who they say have fallen in Syria? We make public funerals for our martyrs, and we are not ashamed of that. Nothing could be concealed, and we are not hiding anything, as when a martyr falls, we tell his family the whole truth, where, when and how this dear brother was martyred."

Nasrallah denied that he had ordered his fighters into Syria, but said the group "reserved the right to join the battle in the future". On the recent death of a Hizbullah operative who, reports claimed, was killed during clashes in Syria, Nasrallah explained that it was part of the cross-border attacks that have been taking place since the uprising erupted in Syria. Lebanese families, estimated at 30,000, live in cross-border villages and towns, and have been the victim of armed groups which killed, kidnapped and displaced them. Some of those families, like other places in Lebanon, belong to Hizbullah and they were fighting not on the side of the Syrian regime, rather in self-defence.

"Our political stance is clear," said Nasrallah. "We see that the situation in Syria is dangerous for Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and the whole region. We call for dialogue, a political solution, and an end of bloodshed. The regime does not need us nor anyone for that matter to fight on its side."

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