Hezbollah Drones a Warning to Israel and the West

Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist group in Lebanon, has been reported to have launched cheap, easy-to-operate drones into the Syrian conflict which can deliver cluster bombs with high accuracy.

Hezbollah recently posted a short video purportedly showing a commercial, copter-style drone dropping small cluster bombs on alleged rebel positions near Aleppo, Syria. Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters into Syria to support Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. According to a Daily Beast article, Hezbollah fighters lack heavy weaponry and vehicles, but the group has begun making lethal use of “small, inexpensive drones for surveillance and attack missions.”

In response, the US Pentagon said that it is preparing for the new reality: that cheap, weaponized drones could soon pose a very real threat to American troops. In an interview last year with Defense News, U.S. Navy Capt. Vincent Martinez, who oversees technology development for the fleet’s bomb squads, said, “I personally believe that the unmanned platform is going to be one of the most important weapons of our age.”

Hezbollah’s new drone program in Syria marks a departure from its previous drone operations: in 2004 Hezbollah caught the Israeli air defense off guard when it launched Iranian-supplied drones into Israeli airspace on spying missions. Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, then boasted that their drones could penetrate “anywhere, deep, deep” into Israel while carrying a payload of over 200 pounds of explosives. Again in 2006, during Israel’s brief war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the terror group launched three drones loaded with explosives into Israel, all of which the Israeli air force shot down.

While the drones Hezbollah used in the past were strategic terror weapons, their new drone operations are, according to the The Daily Beast article, “strictly tactical”. The commercial drones Hezbollah are now deploying can only fly short distances from their operators and can only carry a few pounds of payload. However, they are easy to operate, stable and able to drop their payload on the intended target with high accuracy. An additional benefit: they are cheap and easy to get. That means that poorly funded militant groups could start using commercial drones as lethal bombers or as a bomb itself all over the world. Currently, drone technologies are ahead of the defense technologies against them. Shoot down one weaponized drone and another one can very quickly take its place.

In the meantime, it seems that the quagmire conflict in Syria which has taken the lives of so many and displaced so many more is now becoming a training ground for terrorist groups like Hezbollah. On August 18, the Lebanese paper, AL-Akbar, published an article entitled: “Hezbollah on the Land and in the Air: from the West to the Galilee”. In this propagandistic expose piece meant to highlight the development of Hezbollah since its founding, a senior Hezbollah commander is quoted, saying, “After our victory [against Israel] in 2006, we were required to transform into an offensive force and to prepare for what the Israelis fear the most—our penetration into the Galilee.”

The Hezbollah commander also spoke about the knowledge Hezbollah has gleaned from its involvement in the Syrian conflict: “The insertion of combat forces with armored vehicles, infantry, the use of artillery and coordination with the Air Force.” In short, the Syrian conflict has become the testing ground for many of the region’s worst terrorist groups where they are not only gaining experience but developing new tactics and weaponry, like the use of weaponized commercial drones. Israel and the West not only need to have their eyes and ears open, but they need to stay a step ahead of such developments.