By Patrick Megahan and John Cappello
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported February 23 that it had downed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over the Mediterranean after it was launched from the Gaza Strip. According to IDF sources, an Israeli F-16 shot down the UAV, which it said belonged to Hamas, before it was able to cross into the country’s airspace. Details of the type of drone and its mission remain sparse, but the flight demonstrates Hamas’s determined pursuit for UAV capability even after the death of its chief drone engineer last month in Tunisia. While Hamas’s nascent drone program has yet to produce any tactical or strategic advantage, the use of drones by terrorist organizations elsewhere in the region underscores the challenges they can pose.
Hamas reportedly tested its first drone in 2012, after which the IDF quickly targeted the site believed to house the program. A year later, Palestinian security forces foiled Hamas operatives in the West Bank plotting to launch UAVs packed with explosives that would strike targets in Israel. It was not until summer 2014, however, that Hamas launched a UAV that breached Israeli airspace, reaching the seaside city of Ashdod before being quickly downed by a Patriot surface-to-air missile. Hamas attempted to fly a UAV into Israeli airspace in June 2015, but it crashed just after crossing the border fence. Last September, another UAV appeared above the Gaza coast before also being quickly downed by an Israeli fighter.