Mohammad Zaatari / AP
JERUSALEM – The Israeli military said on Saturday it shot down three drones launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah towards an area where an Israeli gas rig was recently installed over the Mediterranean Sea.
The launch appeared to be an attempt by Hezbollah to influence US-brokered negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border, an area rich in natural gas.
In a statement, Israel said the plane was detected early and posed no “imminent threat”. However, the incident drew a stark warning from Prime Minister Yair Lapid of Israel.
“I stand before you at this moment and say to everyone seeking our downfall, from Gaza to Tehran, from the coast of Lebanon to Syria: Do not test us,” Lapid said in the speech. first speech before the nation since taking office on Friday. . “Israel knows how to use its power against all threats, against all enemies.”
Earlier this month, Israel set up a gas rig in the Karish field, which Israel says lies within part of an internationally recognized economic sea. Lebanon has claimed it lies in disputed waters.
Hezbollah issued a brief statement, confirming that it had launched three unarmed drones over the disputed maritime issue over the Karish field during a reconnaissance mission. “Mission completed and message received,” it said.
Israel and Hezbollah are arch-enemies with a month-long war in the summer of 2006. Israel considers the Iran-backed Lebanese group to be its most serious immediate threat, estimating it to have some 150,000 missiles. and missiles aimed at Israel.
Last week, the US said mediator Amos Hochstein had held talks with the Lebanese and Israeli sides. “The exchanges have been productive and enhanced the goal of narrowing differences between the two sides. The United States will continue to engage with the parties in the coming days and weeks,” his office said in a statement. announced last week.
The two countries, officially at war since Israel’s founding in 1948, both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to tap into offshore gas reserves as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history.
On Saturday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters that Lebanon had received “encouraging information” regarding the border dispute but declined to comment further and said that Beirut was waiting for an “official response”. in writing to the Lebanese side’s proposals.”