Iran claims drones gained access to secret Israeli facilities

Iran claims the unknown unmanned drone shot down over Israel in October belonged to Hezbollah, and Iranian intelligence officials were able to pull images gathered by the drone before it was destroyed, according to state-run news agencies.

Top Iranian lawmaker Ismaeil Kowsari told the semi-official Mehr News Agency in Iran on Monday that Tehran was in possession of the images, adding that Hezbollah has already weaponized a handful of their unmanned aircraft. 

"These drones transmit the pictures online," Kowsari, who heads the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, said in a interview with Mehr. 

"The pictures of forbidden sites taken and transmitted by this drone are now in our possession," he added. 

The drone was able to penetrate deep into Israeli airspace undetected and gather intelligence on the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev desert and other sensitive locations in the South Mount Hebron area before being shot down by Israeli fighters. 

Hezbollah chief Seyed Hassan Nasrallah on Monday confirmed to Iran's Fars News Agency the drone, code-named 'Ayub', had breached Israeli air defenses and was a clear example of the group's capabilities in unmanned aircraft. 

On Sunday, Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi backed Kowsari's claims, saying the Ayub shot down over Israel was not the most advanced unmanned drone in Iran's arsenal. 

"Definitely, the drone which recently flew over [Israel] and astonished the world was not the product of Iran's latest technology," he told state-run Press TV. 

A senior Israeli military official in Israel's northern command told the Associated Press on Monday  that Jerusalem was continuing its investigation of the drone shootdown. 

However, the official noted that it was unlikely the Ayub drone had the ability to collect images or video, The Associated Press reports. 

The October shoot-down came months after Iran announced it had cracked the classified technologies aboard a captured, top-secret U.S. surveillance drone.

At the time, Tehran claimed it had begun to reverse-engineer those technologies and incorporate that work into its own unmanned fleet. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in April he "seriously questioned" Iran's claims during a press briefing at the Pentagon. 

Tehran's allegations were a thinly veiled attempt to get Washington to back off the harsh economic sanctions imposed on Iran over the country's secretive nuclear enrichment program.  

Dubbed the 'Beast of Kandahar' for its past intelligence operations in Afghanistan, the U.S. drone officially known as the RQ-170 was conducting intelligence operations over Iran last December when it was captured by Iranian forces. 

The Ayub was reportedly modeled after the RQ-170, but no images of the Iranian aircraft have been made public after the October shoot-down. 

Iranian engineers allegedly hacked into the aircraft's control system, tricking the drone's guidance systems to think it was landing in U.S.-held territory in Afghanistan, according to news reports at the time. 

In fact, Iranian hackers claim to have guided the CIA-operated aerial drone to land in Iran.