The Israeli Hermes 450 drone downed Aug. 23 over the uranium enrichment facility in central Iran took off from Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Airbase, DEBKAfile’s military and Iranian sources report. Tests by Iranian aviation experts and intelligence personnel indicated that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commanders who originally attributed the takeoff to Saudi Arabia spoke too soon.
The Azerbaijani canton of Nakhchivan, bordering Iran, Armenia, and Turkey, hosts a small military airbase. Three years ago, another Hermes 450 used it as a jumping-off point towards Armenia, where the Armenian air defense shot it down.
In his Monday Aug. 25 announcement, Revolutionary Guards Air Force Commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh said it had not taken to the skies from Israel, but did not specify its provenance. He also fell short of attributing the drone to Israel, announcing only that the plane was an Israeli-made Hermes 450 with an operational range of 800 kilometers. Iran’s Arabic television station Al-Alam displayed parts of the drone on air, but they showed no Israeli identification markings.
Armed with the fact that Israel is 1,100 flying kilometers from Iran, many Israeli military analysts misleadingly went to great lengths to claim that the images offered by the Revolutionary Guards were not of a Hermes 450 or of any aircraft in the service of Israel. Because of its wide-ranging satellite surveillance coverage, the analysts argued, Israel has no need to risk sending a drone armed with classified intelligence systems into Iranian airspace.
These claims simply don’t hold water.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Hermes 450 boasts a range of video and still cameras that can capture extremely high-resolution color images. Thermal imaging devices allow the cameras to operate in poor visibility and almost any weather condition.
Without specifying who dispatched the drone, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Deghan announced that his country would retaliate by supplying arms to Palestinians in the West Bank. He did not detail how these weapons transfers would be carried our, or for which groups they are intended.
According to our sources, this vague response points to frustration in Tehran over its general helplessness in the face of regular drone flights every few weeks from Nakhchivan over its nuclear facilities. The drones measure radioactive levels, data for the accurate calculation of the progress of Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
Iran has tried for two years to down these drones – without success, with this week’s incident providing a notable exception. Iran has repeatedly attempted to electronically control trespassing UAVs and down them intact, in the same way as they downed a complete American RQ-170 in December 2011. But so far, they have not obtained a complete Israeli drone.
last Saturday, the Iranians shot down the Hermes by means of an anti-air missile ambush, prompting a certain amount of boasting from Tehran. But the UAV was not a stealth craft as the Iranians claimed and much of their crowing is intended to cover up their long record of failure. Indeed, the drone was already 300 km inside Iranian airspace from Nakhchivan before it was detected.
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