Iran Accelerating Hezbollah's Precision Missile Program After Years of Failure, Israel Says

Lebanese group and its Iranian backers have begun producing dozens of precision missiles in Lebanon, but have not found a way to mass produce them

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi (left) and Revolutionary Guards' Mohammad Hejazi (right), who Israel says is leading Hezbollah's precision missile program, in Tehran, April 11, 2010.
Vahidreza Alaei/AFP

Iran and Hezbollah have sped up their precision-guided missile project over the past year after six years of failure, Israel's military said on Thursday amid tensions following a strike near Beirut that Lebanon attributed to Israel.

Hezbollah possesses dozens of precision missiles, the army said as it released a comprehensive overview of the missile project for the first time, but has until now failed in its attempts to mass produce them within Lebanon.

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Timeline of events over the past week amid an escalation in the Middle East involving Syria, Iraq and Israel.
Haaretz

Hezbollah has kept the project compartmentalized, and the group has denied its existence in the face of foreign attempts to discover its details, including after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed the project's existence in a September 2018 United Nations speech.

The military added that while the Lebanese government has ignored the project, Israel still holds it responsible.

"We're determined to foil this dangerous project," Netanyahu told reporters. "The aim of today's publication is to show that we will not stand idly by as our enemies equip themselves with deadly weapons."

Israel decided to take the unusual step of releasing details of the project despite the risk of revealing intelligence it has collected in order to, according to the army, combat Hezbollah's attempts to deny the existence of the project and of the production sites it has built in Lebanese population centers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Prime addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York September 27, 2018.
AFP

Iran began attempting to deliver precision missiles – which can be accurate within a few meters of a target – to Hezbollah via Syria since 2013.

The Iranians assumed that the civil war raging in Syria would help disguise this activity, but Israel's lack of intervention in that war made it possible to foil such efforts. According to current assessments, Israel destroyed most of the weapons deliveries meant for Syria and Lebanon up until the end of 2015. Iran therefore decided in 2016 to instead transfer parts to Lebanon for building missiles there. The parts were delivered through three routes: official crossings at the Syria-Lebanon border; on civilian flights to Beirut; and on ships arriving at Beirut's port. However, over the next two years Iran and Hezbollah decided that the project was not likely to become operational by the intended date – September 2018.  According to the military, this led to them accelerating their plans. 

On Wednesday, Haaretz reported that Sunday's strike in Lebanon hit a central component of Hezbollah's missile program. It damaged a planetary mixer — an industrial-sized mixer weighing about eight tons, needed to create propellants that can improve the engine performance of missiles and increase their accuracy. The machine was hit, as far as is known, shortly before Hezbollah planned to move it to a secured site.

Members of Lebanon's Shi'ite movement Hezbollah parade with a mock missile launcher in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatiyeh, on October 27
MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who accused Israel of carrying out this strike and a second one – which killed two Lebanese Hezbollah fighters near Damascus a few hours earlier – threatened retaliation for both strikes. The Israeli army is bracing for a reprisal, possibly within the next few days.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Monday that Lebanon had a right to defend itself, what he said were Israeli drone strikes to a "declaration of war."