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Israel Claims Iranian Drone It Shot Down Was Armed And Ready To Strike

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up what he claimed was a piece of an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace in February.

An unmanned Iranian aircraft shot down in February in Israeli airspace was armed with explosives and on a mission to attack the Jewish state, Israel's military has claimed.

"The Iranian aircraft was armed with explosives and was tasked to attack Israeli territory," the Israeli army said on April 14, adding that its conclusion was based on an "operational and intelligence-based investigation" of the drone incident.

By downing the craft, Israeli "combat helicopters prevented the attack Iran had hoped to carry out," the army said.

The military said the February 10 incident over the northern town of Beit Shean marked the first time Iran has tried to directly strike Israel, rather than working through its close ally, the Lebanese Hizballah militia, or other proxies.

The Israeli statement came after the leader of Hizballah on April 13 called an alleged Israeli air strike in Syria that killed seven Iranians on April 9 a "historic mistake" that will lead to open conflict for the first time between the two Middle Eastern powers.

"The Israelis committed a historic mistake...and put themselves in direct combat with Iran" for the first time, Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address in Lebanon.

Nasrallah said that the Iranians killed in the attack on Syria's T-4 air base were members of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

"This is unprecedented in seven years: that Israel directly targets Iran's Revolutionary Guards," Nasrallah said. "This is a turning point for the region, and what came before is not what will come after."

Russian, Iranian, and Hizballah fighters all have a presence at the T-4 base, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor.

The Observatory said a total of 14 fighters, including Iranians, died in the air strike. No Russians were reported killed.

Leaders of Iran and Hizballah have repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, though HIzballah has not engaged in an open conflict with Tel Aviv since losing a monthlong war in 2006.

Israel has not confirmed or denied carrying out the strike on the Syrian base, but Israel's military said the drone it downed in February was sighted taking off from that base.

Russia and Syria have blamed Israel for attacking the base, and the Kremlin this week said Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed it with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone conversation.

Israel has issued several stern warnings recently to Iran and has complained about increased Iranian activity along its northern border with Syria and Lebanon.

Israeli leaders have warned that they will not allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence near its border in Syria, where it could stage attacks.

More broadly, they have voiced concern about Tehran fulfilling its ambition to establish a land corridor from Tehran through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to the Mediterranean Sea, a corridor it could use to funnel fighters and transfer weapons to its allies Hizballah and Hamas.

With reporting by AP and Reuters