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Men dressed in black wearing red headbands walking with a poster featuring a drone and Arabic writing
Members of Hezbollah walk during a procession in Beirut marking the holy day of Ashura in August 2022 carrying a poster of a drone with the words “we are coming” in Arabic. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

How drones form part of Hezbollah’s deterrence strategy against Israel

The Lebanese armed group Hezbollah recently released videos showing footage from one of its drones flying over the Israeli city of Haifa and the surrounding area. Hezbollah released the videos shortly after American special envoy Amos Hochstein went to Beirut in a bid to get Lebanese political leaders to pressure Hezbollah to withdraw from the border with Israel.

Following Hochstein’s visit, Hezbollah released images captured by one of its drones called the Hudhud (Hoopoe), highlighting strategic military and civilian infrastructure inside Israel.

The following day, the group’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, gave a speech where he reiterated that Hezbollah has the ability to launch targeted strikes anywhere in Israel.

The drone footage provides evidence of Hezbollah’s growing technological capabilities. Along with Nasrallah’s speech, it appears designed to check Israeli threats to invade Lebanon and send a message that Hezbollah has the ability to cause serious damage in Israel in the event of a full-scale war.

Use of drones

In response to Israel’s attack on Gaza, Hezbollah has been attacking Israeli military positions along the border with Lebanon since October 2023. The Israeli military has shelled and launched airstrikes on several areas of southern Lebanon. Hundreds of people, predominantly Lebanese, have been killed and tens of thousands on both sides of the border have been forced to flee the area.

Israeli media reports suggest the military chose not to shoot down Hezbollah’s drone. Israel justified this decision by citing a concern over civilian casualties. However, military analysts believe that failing to intercept enemy drones during a conflict indicates inadequate detection capabilities.

Typically, a foreign military aircraft flying over a territory would immediately be neutralized to eliminate any security risk, potentially by targeting it over water or unpopulated areas.

Technological advancements are enabling Hezbollah, and the broader Axis of Resistance, to challenge Israel’s air superiority and its ability to maintain total control over the skies.

This includes development of highly powerful missiles and the ability to intercept or destroy Israeli drones such as the Hermes 450 and Skylark frequently used in reconnaissance missions over Lebanon.

However, this also exposes Lebanon to heightened risks, with each new weapon unveiled by Hezbollah potentially escalating the conflict.

Mutual deterrence

Confrontations between Israel and Hezbollah over the years have been marked by tit-for-tat attempts to establish mutual deterrence. In recent months, Hezbollah has shot down Israeli drones and bombed Israeli military bases.

Since October 2023, Israel has conducted preemptive and retaliatory strikes in Lebanon, targeting members of Hamas and Hezbollah, especially in southern Lebanon. In June, Israel targeted Taleb Sami Abdallah, a key Hezbollah commander on the Lebanese-Israeli front.

Following this attack, Hezbollah intensified its offensive, launching rockets that caused wildfires in Israel. The weekend that followed remained relatively calm due to Eid al-Adha celebrations.

Part of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s speech following the armed group’s release of drone footage over parts of northern Israel.

Read more: The war in Gaza risks pulling in Hezbollah and Lebanon

Israel has also taken measures to deter Hezbollah attacks by disrupting the use of GPS navigation and location-based apps, such as Google Maps, out of security concerns, aimed at countering drones, missiles and other technologies used by Hezbollah and other armed groups. This demonstrates Israel’s determination to maintain its technological superiority and develop countermeasures against emerging threats.

However, while groups like Hezbollah have increasingly adopted advanced technology, they also rely on more rudimentary tactics to evade detection. Nasrallah once described Hezbollah’s use of such tactics in an interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

The Iron Dome

Hezbollah has significantly bolstered its military and technological arsenal since its last war with Israel in 2006, and would likely pose a larger threat to Israel’s military in a broader confrontation.

Hezbollah recently claimed to have destroyed an Iron Dome battery, although the Israeli military said it was unaware of any damage to its launchers.

Iron Dome is designed to defend Israel from short-range missiles and drones launched by armed groups. It consists of batteries located throughout the country, and uses radar to track incoming targets and interceptor missiles to destroy them.

While Israel has touted Iron Dome’s interception rate, U.S. officials have said the system could be overwhelmed in an all-out war with Hezbollah.

Psychological warfare

Hezbollah is well aware that Israel is unlikely to show restraint in pursuit of its political and military goals.

This is as evidenced by the bombardment of Gaza and Israeli military tactics like the Dahiya Doctrine, which calls for the wide scale destruction of civilian infrastructure. Israeli airstrikes and threats of invasion have already forced around 95,000 people to flee southern Lebanon.

By provoking Israel, Hezbollah demonstrates its readiness to challenge it head on. The question remains: does Hezbollah truly possess this capability, or is it bluffing?

In his speech, Nasrallah emphasized the group has not yet revealed the full extent of its capabilities and hinted at further actions to come. His comments form part of Hezbollah’s strategy in the psychological war with Israel, and the current escalation represents a significant development.

Hezbollah is attempting to dictate the pace of the clashes, frustrating the population in northern Israel by giving impression that Hezbollah is controlling the situation and imposing its conditions on the area.

This psychological war appears to be having a real impact, causing Israeli leaders to avoid disproportionate responses and prompting growing concern among Israelis about their government’s inability to control the situation. More than 96,000 Israelis have fled the north since October 2023.

Smoke rises above buildings surrounded by trees
Smoke rises from an Israeli army position attacked by Hezbollah in October 2023. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The Israeli military says it has approved “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon.” However, despite Israel’s undeniable military superiority over Hezbollah, its actions so far indicate it acknowledges the dangers a wider war could bring. Israeli officials have warned that infrastructure like the electricity supply could be severely damaged in a full-blown war.

The Israeli army has not fought a major war in years, and appears increasingly bogged down in Gaza. Meanwhile, Hezbollah has spent much of the last decade fighting in Syria, providing its fighters with battle experience. Furthermore, if the war does escalate, Hezbollah allies in Iran, Iraq and Yemen could become even more involved.

Ultimately, Hezbollah knows Israel is much stronger. However, through psychological warfare it is sending the message that any conflagration would also be destructive for Israel.

It is imperative all parties involved exercise restraint. The fighting and destruction must end to protect the well-being of the people in the region who are suffering the devastating consequences of this conflict.

Israel’s military spokesman recently stated it’s not possible to destroy Hamas because destroying an idea with weapons is impossible. The same applies to Hezbollah. This conflict can only be solved around the negotiating table with a peace that safeguards the security and dignity of all people.

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