August 9, 2006:
For the third time in the last two years, Lebanese based terrorist group Hizbollah flew an Iranian UAV into Israel. This time, on August 7th, Israeli F-16s caught the UAV some ten kilometers off the coast, and shot it down. During the previous incidents, the Hizbollah UAVs were able to fly into Israel for a short time (less than 20 minutes), they get away safely before Israeli air or ground forces could do anything about it.
Hizbollah call their UAV "Mirsad 1", but it appears to be an Iranian Ababil. The Iranians have been developing UAVs for nearly a decade. Their Ababil is a 183 pound UAV with a ten foot wing span, a payload of about 80 pounds, a cruising speed of 290 kilometers an hour and an endurance of 90 minutes. The Ababil is known to operate as far as 150 kilometers from its ground controller. but it also has a guidance system that allows it to fly a pre-programmed route and then return to the control by its ground controllers for a landing (which is by parachute). The Ababil can carry a variety of day and night still and video cameras. There are many inexpensive and very capable cameras available on the open market, as is the equipment needed to transmit video and pictures back to the ground.
When the Hizbollah UAVs first appeared, the Israelis feared that the low flying Ababils could come south carrying a load of nerve gas, or even just explosives. Using GPS guidance, such a UAV could hit targets very accurately. Moreover, there's nothing exotic about UAV technology, at least for something like the Ababil. It was no surprise that Iran began using home made UAVs in the late 1990s. After all, they had received some UAVs from the United States in the 1970s (Firebee target drones.) The Israelis immediately tagged Iran as the supplier of the Hizbollah drone, because Iran has long supplied that terrorist organization with cash, weapons and equipment for decades. Now Israel has many components of the shot down UAV, which will make it possible to make a positive identification.