TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's defense minister said Sunday that Hezbollah's launch of a drone into Israeli airspace earlier this week proves the Islamic Republic's military capabilities, state TV reported.
The statement by Gen. Ahmad Vahidi was Iran's first official acknowledgement that the Lebanese militant group's drone used Iranian technology. It came a few days after Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for the launch and said the drone was manufactured in Iran and assembled in Lebanon.
"Great job by Hezbollah," Gen. Vahidi said. "The era in which the Zionist regime (Israel) could think it has regional supremacy is over."
Israeli warplanes shot down the unmanned plane, but the infiltration marked a rare breach of Israel's tightly guarded airspace.
Vahidi said Hezbollah had the right to launch the drone since Israeli warplanes routinely overfly Lebanon. Nasrallah warned that it would not be the last such operation by the group.
Iran routinely announces technological breakthroughs in its defense program. Last month it claimed to have started producing a long-range missile-carrying drone, months after it said it was reverse-engineering an American unmanned aircraft that went down in Iranian territory last year.
The defense minister reiterated Tehran's position that the Jewish state does not have the capability to act against Iran. Israel has not ruled out a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, which the West suspects are aimed at developing weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear activities are only geared toward peaceful purposes like power generation and cancer treatment.
Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite group committed to Israel's destruction, has long served as an Iranian proxy along Israel's northern border. Israel and Hezbollah fought a brutal month-long war in mid-2006. Hundreds of people were killed, and Hezbollah fired several thousand rockets and missiles into Israel before the conflict ended in a stalemate.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)