Key Point: The best answer is that even if it wasn’t a real drone attack, it could have been – and some day it will be.
Did an Islamic Jihad drone drop a bomb an Israeli tank outside Gaza last year?
Islamic Jihad, a violent group based in Hamas-controlled Gaza, claims it does. Others aren’t so sure.
The Youtube video shows what appears to be an aerial – or drone’s eye – view of an Israeli Merkava tank in arid terrain characteristic of southern Israel. As red crosshairs (which appear to have been added after the video was taken) frame the tank, an Israeli soldier is shown walking up to it. Then a puff of smoke suddenly billows next to it. The tank seems to have taken no damage.
The most confusing scene is shown at the 55-second mark. There is an object at the bottom of the screen, with markings and fluttering cloth or paper. Then the object is shown falling through the air toward the tank, followed by an explosion. It is difficult to tell whether the object is part of the original footage, or computer graphics added afterward.
“Your fortresses don’t stand before us,” said the video caption in Arabic and broken Hebrew, according to a translation by the Jerusalem Post.
Lebanese TV channel Al Mayadeen, which is considered pro-Hezbollah, first broadcast the video. The channel wrote, “Al-Quds Brigades reveal the use of drones to attack Israeli occupation tanks in the last round of Gaza fighting.”
The Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on the video to Israeli media.
So was this an actual drone attack, or some doctored film? The best answer is that even if it wasn’t a real drone attack, it could have been – and some day it will be. Israel is one of the world’s leaders in drone technology: the U.S. military has used several Israeli designs, as have other nations such as India. But the fact is that Israel’s enemies also have drones.
Hezbollah, the Lebanese non-state army that is perhaps the most formidable force among Israel’s neighbors, has used drones to overfly northern Israel (the organization even has a drone museum) as well as targeting ISIS. Some have been shot down by Israeli defenses. With Hezbollah’s access to weapons via its patron Iran, the militant group has been able to fly Iranian drones that aren’t as sophisticated as Western designs, but are more than homemade.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip (and has an uneasy relationship with rival Islamic Jihad) has drones to augment its arsenal of rockets. An Israeli newspaper claimed last year that the Israeli military has buried reports that Hamas drones bombed an Israeli town bordering Gaza. “The IDF doesn’t know how many explosive-carrying drones were sent over the last year from the Gaza Strip, how many of them made it back in one piece, and whether this is the harbinger of what’s to come in the next round of fighting—waves of explosive drones,” said Israeli news site Ynet. “But the working assumption in the Southern Command is that Hamas does have the capability to operate dangerous drones.”
In fact, Hamas has already used a pseudo-drone against Israel: simple balloons and kites armed with incendiary devices that floated over the Israeli defenses along the Gaza border, and set farm fields afire. Israel’s response? Small drones, like the kind used by hobbyists, to down the balloons.
The problem is one of asymmetry. Israel has sophisticated, expensive drones designed to attack heavily defended targets in Iran or Syria. For organizations like Hamas or Hezbollah, merely dropping a bomb on an Israeli town or tank – even if it does no damage – is a political victory.
Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook. This piece was originally featured in June 2019 and is being republished due to reader’s interest.