A senior Iranian military official claimed Tuesday that Iranian-made surveillance drones have conducted dozens of undetected forays into Israeli airspace from Lebanon in recent years to probe air defenses and gather intelligence.
The Iranian official declined to give further details on the objectives or the capabilities of the drones, including whether they were similar to the drone launched last week by Hezbollah and downed by Israeli jets. It also was impossible to independently verify the claims from the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The Iranian official claimed drones made by the Islamic republic have made "dozens of flights over Israel" since the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Hezbollah and Israel. He said Israeli defenses have been unable to detect the surveillance aircraft.
"The one that was shot down last week was not the first and will not be the last to fly into Israeli airspace," the official said.
But an Israeli security official rejected the Iranian claims, saying last week's interception of a drone was the first time such an infiltration had occurred. He said Israel spotted the unmanned aircraft well before it entered Israeli airspace, determined that it was not "dangerous" and then shot it down over uninhabited desert according to plan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because an Israeli military investigation was still under way.
On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rahmin Mehmanparast described Iran's military developments, including drones and missiles capable of reaching Israel, as a safeguard against a possible Israeli attack on nuclear sites.
A member of the Iranian parliament, Abbas Ali Mansouri, said the drone's flight also showed Hezbollah's growing battlefield capabilities as Tehran's main client militia. Hezbollah could potentially take on a more key role as an Iran proxy if Syrian rebels oust Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus, another critical ally for the Islamic republic.
"It's crucial that Hezbollah is able to gather remarkable intelligence from inside Israel," he said.
Meanwhile, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday said pressure tactics would not force Tehran to "surrender" to major governments in discussions over its disputed atomic activities, French news agency AFP reported.
Meanwhile, the European Union on Tuesday implemented broad punitive steps against Iranian energy, shipping and monetary operations.
Western powers continue "saying pressure against Iran is aimed at forcing the Islamic republic to return to the negotiating table" over its atomic activities, Khamenei said in a government media broadcast.
"But when did we leave the table that now we need to return?" Khamenei asked.
"Their real objective is [forcing] the Iranian nation to surrender to their bullying at the negotiating table ... [but] you are too weak to bring Iran to its knees," Khamenei said.
"European officials are still stuck in the bullying mindset of the colonial 19th century, but they will face many problems in the face of the resistance of the Iranian nation and officials," he said.
The new EU measures elicited a positive response on Tuesday from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "These sanctions are hitting the Iranian economy hard," Netanyahu said. "We'll know they are achieving their goal when [Iran's uranium enrichment] centrifuges stop spinning and when the Iranian nuclear program is rolled back."
Western states have relied on the atomic issue to justify punishing Tehran for "insisting on its own independence" Iran's Foreign Ministry asserted on Tuesday.
"These sanctions are adopted under the pretext of Iran's peaceful nuclear activities ... but even if our nuclear issue is resolved, these countries will certainly use other excuses to put pressure on us," spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told AFP.
"We think the error in calculation which these countries are pursuing will distance them from a favorable result," Reuters quoted Mehmanparast as saying. "We recommend that, instead of taking the wrong approach and being stubborn and using pressure ... with a logical approach they can return to discussions."
In other news, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly discussed their differences over the ongoing civil war in Syria during an unscheduled meeting on the sidelines of a regional economic conference in Baku, Azerbaijan on Tuesday, according to the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News.
The meeting lasted about 40 minutes, according to the report.