A surveillance balloon launched by the Israeli military in the northern Galilee region will provide early warning of long-range missiles and drones targeting the country, sources said on Sunday.
Israeli authorities said that the balloon weighs several tons, and is equipped with specialist cameras, computers and radar.
The balloon is located on the triangle of the Jordanian-Syrian border, and can monitor territory hundreds of kilometers away.
Military sources said that the new balloon is similar to the device that protects the Dimona reactor in the Negev desert.
It will be able to detect long-range missiles and drones launched from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as monitor aircraft at Damascus airport and deep into Lebanon, the sources said.
According to the sources, transporting and launching the balloon was one of the most complex logistical operations the Israeli Air Force has carried out in the past decade.
A US team helped to assemble and launch the balloon, the sources said.
The Israeli army expects any future war to be a “multi-front” confrontation, with coordinated attacks involving thousands of aircraft, including drones, and cruise missiles.
The system, developed jointly by the Israel Missile Defense Organization and the US Missile Defense Agency, comprises a balloon capable of flying at high altitudes with radar and detection systems to scan a large area in any direction.
Rami Shmuel, CEO of RT, an Israeli company that makes surveillance balloons, said that the systems are much better than drones or other security surveillance methods from both economic and operational perspectives.
“The balloon costs $1 per hour, while the done costs $600, and it can stay in the sky between 14-20 days continuously, while the drone can stay for a few hours only,” Shmuel said.
He said that balloons, unlike drones, can be fitted with cumbersome high-resolution cameras.
“It’s the best security surveillance and warning method,” Shmuel added.
Majdi Halabi, an expert on Israeli affairs, told Arab News that Iran has provided Hezbollah in Lebanon with hundreds of Shahid and Khaybar drones, which pose a significant threat to Israel.
The surveillance balloon will allow drones to be intercepted and brought down before they cross Israel’s borders, he said.
“If 5,000 drones and missiles were launched by Hezbollah toward Israel, it would cause terrible destruction,” Halabi added.
According to the sources, Israel faces significant defense challenges, particularly in the north.
Yoni Ben Menachem, an Israeli analyst, said that the country has accurate intelligence regarding Hezbollah’s intention to attack Israeli targets.
He referred to a statement by Naim Qassem, deputy head of the party, who said the next war would be fought inside (Israel) and not in southern Lebanon.
“Hezbollah is trying to change the game rules that have prevailed since the July 2006 war by moving the battle into Israel instead of southern Lebanon.”
Meanwhile, Israel will begin large-scale military maneuvers on Monday, including the air force, army and navy, in areas across the country. Combat aircraft will take part in the exercises, which will last about two weeks.
Civil aviation routes in Israel will be changed and airspace closed to small aircraft during the exercises.