Israel sees future drone threat from Lebanon, Gaza

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israel fears guerrillas in Lebanon and Gaza would deploy exploding drones against the Jewish state in a future war as well as their main rocket arsenals, the chief of Israeli air defense said on Monday. "We will have to cope with dozens of pilotless aerial vehicles, in both the northern and southern fronts," Major-General Shachar Shohat, told a Tel Aviv security conference. Israel is itself a world leader in drone technologies and has used the vehicles extensively in combat. Uzi Rabin, an Israeli aerospace expert, said Israel's Iron Dome and Patriot missile interceptors were capable of shooting down most drones. Israel is separately developing Iron Beam, a laser system for vaporizing short-range mortar bombs and says it also will be able to destroy small drones. Shohat said the guerrillas' drones would range from radio-controlled model airplanes weighing a few kilos to large drones with payloads of hundreds of kilos. Another air force officer said Shohat was referring to drones carrying explosives and designed to crash into targets. The reference to the heavier kind of vehicle, suggested Israel believes that Lebanon's Hezbollah group will receive such drones from Iran. Hezbollah, Hamas and other Islamist militias have fired thousands of rockets at militarily superior Israel in previous conflicts, but have made scant use of drones. Shohat, however, said at the conference, organized by the INSS think tank, that drones were now part of enemy guerrilla strategies. Drones flew into Israeli airspace from Lebanon on at least two occasions in 2012 and 2013, apparently on photography missions and bids to probe air defenses. Israeli jets shot them down. After the 2012 incident, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged sending a drone that flew some 25 miles into Israel. He said the drone's parts were made in Iran and it was assembled by Hezbollah members in Lebanon. Nasrallah has denied that Hezbollah or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were responsible for the 2013 flight. (Editing by Jeffrey Heller)