‘Don’t Test Us’: Israel Shoots Down Hezbollah Drones In Territorial Dispute
(Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

The Israeli military reportedly shot down three Hezbollah drones which were targeting offshore gas rigs Saturday in disputed Mediterranean waters.

Officials claim the drones were launched from Lebanon and were downed by Israeli fighters jets and ship-based missiles. Hezbollah issued a short statement confirming that it had launched unarmed drones for reconnaissance.

“The mission was accomplished and the message was received,” Hezbollah said.

The territorial dispute centers on the Karish gas fields, which Israel claims are within its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone, although Lebanon also lays claim to parts of the territory. Israel constructed a new rig in the gas field last month. Lebanon reportedly hopes to exploit the offshore gas reserves in the area to prop up its economy, which is in the midst of one of the greatest economic crises in modern history.

U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein is mediating between the two countries to resolve the longstanding dispute. Last week, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened to stop Israeli operation of the rig by force.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz responded by condemning the actions of the Islamist group, arguing that such tactics were “preventing the state of Lebanon from reaching an agreement regarding maritime borders, which are critical to the economy and prosperity of the Lebanese nation.”

Israel and Lebanon have officially been at war since 2006, when Hezbollah, a Shia militant group and Iranian ally arguably more powerful than the official government of Lebanon, captured and attempted to ransom two Israeli soldiers. Although there was a ceasefire later that year, hostilities have continued to flare up intermittently over the subsequent years, with border skirmishes and rocketfire between the two nations occurring distressingly frequently.

Israel reportedly considers Hezbollah its most immediate threat, and estimates the Iranian backed terror group has roughly 150,000 rockets aimed at its territory and citizens.

The escalating tensions come at a time of domestic political upheaval for the Jewish state. A left-leaning coalition government headed by Naftali Bennett, the first in history to include an Arab party, recently collapsed after its threadbare majority of 60 votes in the 120 seat Knesset, became untenable. Bennett called for new elections in the fall, which could give controversial former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a path back to power. Bennett’s alternate minister, Yair Lapid, is helming the interim government.

In his first statement as caretaker prime minister, Lapid was unambiguous in his condemnation of further incursions into Israeli territory.

“I stand before you at this moment and say to everyone seeking our demise, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: Don’t test us.”

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