Reporting was contributed by Hania Mourtada and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, and Isabel Kershner and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem.
BEIRUT — Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese militant group and political party Hezbollah, declared Thursday that his fighters had assembled and piloted a drone that flew 35 miles into Israel on Saturday, calling the flight an unprecedented achievement in “the history of the resistance.”
In a televised, 50-minute speech, Nasrallah said the drone, which was shot down by Israel forces, had been designed in Iran and assembled by Hezbollah experts in Lebanon.
“It is our right to send other drones whenever we want,” Nasrallah said, noting that Israel frequently violated Lebanese airspace. “It was not the first time and it will not be the last.”
Hours earlier, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, accused Hezbollah in the episode, saying that Israel had “thwarted over the weekend Hezbollah’s attempt” to penetrate its airspace. The group has sent a drone over Israel at least once before.
There was no immediate official reaction from Israel to Nasrallah’s speech, or warnings about the need for a military response against Hezbollah in Lebanon. If anything, there seemed to be an attempt to point a finger at Hezbollah’s patron, the more distant Iran.
“It should come as no surprise that the military machine of Hezbollah in Lebanon is substantially made in Iran,” said one senior official, who was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter.
Nasrallah’s speech was closely watched because of fears that Hezbollah, a longtime ally of Syria and Iran, might provoke a clash with Israel to distract attention from Syria’s crackdown on the nearly 19-month uprising there. Hezbollah has been accused by the United States government, Syrian rebels and Lebanese rivals of assisting the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, in his crackdown. The possibility of Syria becoming a proxy war, with involvement from Hezbollah and Iran on one side and powers like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on the other, is one of many factors that could fuel regional escalation of the conflict.
Nasrallah denied that he had ordered his fighters into Syria, but said the group reserved the right to join the battle in the future.
At the same time, he appeared to subtly distance himself from Assad. He never mentioned Assad’s name — speaking only of “the Syrian regime” — and refrained from praising Syria’s government, as he has in the past, as a pillar of resistance against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.