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New Israeli drones can reach Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel, March 10 (UPI) -- The Israeli air force has rolled out a fleet of massive pilotless planes that fly for a full day with the ability to reach the Persian Gulf.

Made by Israel Aerospace Industries, the Heron TP unmanned aerial vehicles have a massive wingspan of 84 feet, nearly equal to a Boeing 747 passenger jet.

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Also named Eitan, meaning "strong" in Hebrew, the spy plane is Israel's largest and, with its 24-to-36 hour endurance it can fly well within the reach of Iran.

Launched at the Tel Nof Air Base in central Israel, the plane has the potential "to be able to conduct new missions down the line, as they become relevant," air force chief Maj. Gen. Ido Nehustan was quoted as saying by The Jerusalem Post.

Military experts say the drone strongly resembles its predecessor but can fly much higher -- 36,000 feet -- and stay in the air longer.

Israeli military officials have declined to disclose the size of the fleet or whether it was purposely designed for use against Iran.

The launch, though, comes at precarious moment and could be seen as a message for Tehran. Israel worries about Iran because of Tehran's controversial nuclear program, missiles and repeated threats against the Jewish state.

Despite its huge proportions, the aircraft's silent engine makes it a valuable asset for surveillance operations.

Israeli-made drones have come a long way over the past 30 years, "from the humble beginnings of small UAVs with operational outputs during the first Lebanon war, to the varied array of high-tech and multi-operational UAVs that accompany almost operational aspect of the air force," Nehushtan was quoted saying by the Post.

While suited to watch Iran, analysts suggest the drone could run into problems if sent in that direction.

"The Eitan can certainly reach Iran but only by flying through Iraqi airspace -- something which would cause massive offense to the people it was flying above," the Observation Postm, a blog associated with London's Daily Mirror, reported.

Similar to the U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper, the Eitan, said the report, "does not have the capability to fly around the Arabian Peninsula, reach Iran and return to Israel."

Israel is suspected of planning pre-emtive strikes against Iranian nuclear sites if it is shown Tehran is developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nucelar program is for peaceful purposes.

Iran is shielded by a sophisticated ground-to-air missile system and both "America and Israel would be unlikely to use piloted planes, except for major targets," the Observation Post said.

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