Sep 19, 8:12 AM EDT

Israeli military says it downed Hezbollah spy drone that approached Golan Heights airspace



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JERUSALEM (AP) -- The Israeli military said it shot down an Iranian-made spy drone operated by the Hezbollah militant group as it approached the Golan Heights on Tuesday, and vowed to take further tough action against any attempts by its archenemies to violate the country's sovereignty.

The aerial showdown took place as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was preparing to address the U.N. General Assembly, where his speech is expected to focus on concerns of Iran's rising influence across the region, particularly in neighboring Syria.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the drone took off from a Damascus military airport and was on a surveillance mission near Israel's border. He said Israel decided to shoot it down after it entered the demilitarized zone between Syria and the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan.

Fighter jets were scrambled but did not attack the aircraft, and instead a single Patriot missile shot it down, he said.

"Our message is that the IDF will not allow any violation of Israeli sovereignty, and we will not allow Iranian forces, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad or Shiite militias of any kind to approach the Israeli borders," Conricus said. He said if any other attempts to violate Israel's sovereignty are made, "we will respond swiftly." IDF is the acronym for the Israeli Defense Forces.

Conricus said Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese group that has sent forces to back Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war, routinely uses drones on surveillance missions. But it is rare for the pilotless aircraft to enter Israeli airspace. Russian and Iranian forces are fighting in Syria in support of Assad.

Conricus also stressed that said Israel did not seek any further escalation.

Israeli military and political leaders are worried that as the Syrian civil war appears to be winding down, Iranian and Hezbollah forces will maintain a permanent presence in the neighboring country.

Netanyahu was to address the U.N. General Assembly later on Tuesday, with Iran at the top of his agenda.

The Israeli leader is a vocal critic of the international nuclear deal with Iran. He also is concerned about Tehran's support for anti-Israel groups like Hezbollah, and its development of long-range missiles capable of striking his country. He has repeatedly warned that Israel will not accept a military presence by Iran or any of its Shiite allies in the Syrian border area near Israel.

Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting in Syria. But it has carried out dozens of airstrikes on alleged arms shipments bound for Hezbollah. It fears the group will gain sophisticated weapons and smuggle them from Syria into Lebanon.

Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies and fought a monthlong war in 2006 that ended in a stalemate, and Israeli officials fear another war could break out in the future.

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