BEIRUT: In a recent Hezbollah sponsored media report, the party showcased a squadron of drones among other weapons in its arsenal at the “Mleeta Resistance Tourist Landmark.”
The show of force serves to send Israel a message within the realm of psychological warfare, retired Major General Hisham Jaber tells Annahar, while possibly shedding light on the recent downing of an Israeli drone in Bint Jbeil.
Hezbollah’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, can be traced back to 2004 when it sent an Iranian Mirsad on a brief reconnaissance mission over Israel lasting some 14 minutes before returning to Lebanon undetected.
The party had confirmed at the time that the drone could be used to scout airports, bases, and military infrastructure, while also carrying up to 50 kilograms of explosives.
Fast forward two years and drones were also deployed during the 2006 war after Hezbollah sent at least three UAVs toward enemy territory.
In 2012, the Shiite group was able to fly an advanced UAV to southern Israel over a distance of several hundred miles down the Israeli coast over Gaza and the Negev desert, before photographing military sites and gathering intel on the Dimona reactor, part of the Negev Nuclear Research Center.
Hezbollah also used drones to strike Islamic State targets in Syria in the summer of 2017, hitting IS positions, bunkers, and fortifications in the Western Qalamoun area near the border with Lebanon.
Hezbollah's expanding arsenal casts doubt over reports on the mysterious downing of an Israeli reconnaissance plane near the town of Beit Yahoun in Bint Jbeil, of which the remains were later destroyed by Israeli aircraft.
All signs point toward the plane being shot down by Hezbollah, contradicting Israeli reports that it crashed due to technical malfunctions.
The drone was also carrying live munitions which were later destroyed by the Lebanese army, which brings credence to the argument that the aircraft was not merely on a reconnaissance mission.
The downing of the Israeli reconnaissance drone might indicate that Hezbollah has acquired air defense weapons; reports that Jaber neither confirms nor denies, adding that Israel “is willing to pay millions to know more information about the group's defensive mechanisms.”
The success of Syrian air defenses in shooting down an Israeli F-16 in February in a direct confrontation with Tel-Aviv might also signal that the Iranian-backed militant group has acquired new anti-aircraft weapons as part of the broader conflict between Tehran and Damascus, on the one hand, and Israel, on the other.
Jaber says Hezbollah is unlikely to showcase or put such weapons to use under the current circumstances, but will rather seek to keep Israel in the dark over the party's true military capabilities.
A version of this article appeared in Annahar's Arabic print issue on August 10, 2018. The article was adapted into English by Georgi Azar.
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