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Drone flight over Israel marks a propaganda victory for its enemies

The Israeli Defence Force released video footage claiming to show a small unidentified aircraft shot down in mid-air Photo: Reuters TV / Reuters

The question marks and the mysteries over the unmanned and unidentified drone that penetrated deep into Israeli territory lingered rather longer than the aircraft itself.

It was downed by an Israeli missile on Saturday but a search for debris apparently revealed few clues.

Only today did Israel finally announce that it was Iranian-made and flown by Tehran’s allies in Hezbollah.

That came shortly before a victorious appearance on Lebanese TV by Hezbollah’s leader to hail the mission a "historic step".

We have proved we can penetrate Israel’s air defences, Hassan Nasrallah decalared.

The goal this time, he hinted, was to spy on one of Israel’s greatest secrets.

The Dimona atomic research centre is widely assumed to be the heart of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme.

It is a site so sensitive that when a former technician, Mordechai Vanunu, fled to the UK and spoke publically about its uses he was kidnapped by Mossad, tried on charges of treason and espionage and sentenced to 18 years in jail.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah

Israel has a long-standing "policy of ambiguity"’, neither confirming nor denying its nuclear arsenal.

Today, we found the area around it a closely-guarded military zone. Big, bright yellow signs warn: No photography.

The drone was shot down over the Negev desert in southern Israel Credit: ITV News

Whatever the drone did or didn’t see, after a summer of rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, this episode allows Israel’s enemies to highlight a claim that no country in the Middle East has deeper nuclear secrets than Israel itself.

Israel says the drone was tracked as it entered its airspace from the Mediterranean near Gaza and was shot down several miles short of Dimona.

Dr Hillel Avihai of the Israel-based International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, doubts there has been any serious breach of security:

Satellite photographs of Dimona can be seen on the internet. This is more psychological. They want to send us a message that they can get to us.

– Dr Hillel Avihai, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken again of his determination to defend his country’s borders.

But even if the drone flew over no secret sites, it still offers Israel’s enemies a propaganda victory.