At a February 16, 2022, event commemorating three senior Hizbullah commanders who became symbols of martyrdom – Ragheb Harb, Abbas Mousawi, and Imad Mughniyeh – Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah noted that Hizbullah had managed to convert thousands of missiles in its possession into precision-guided missiles, despite Israel’s attempts to thwart the process during its “campaign between the wars.”1
Nasrallah stressed that due to the “threat of transporting precision missiles from Iran to Lebanon and in cooperation with our specialized technicians and experts and those of the Islamic Republic [Iran], we have developed the capability of converting our missiles, which number in the thousands, to precision-guided missiles. We started this process years ago, not now.”2
Nasrallah threatened that if Israel launched search operations for these missiles, it would face a second “Operation Ansariya.” This alluded to Hizbullah’s deadly ambush in 1997 of an Israeli naval commando force near the village of Ansariya in southern Lebanon.
Nasrallah also said in his television address, “We have been producing drones in Lebanon for a long time, and whoever wants to buy them, submit an order.”3 Nasrallah praised the technological capability Hizbullah is developing and emphasized Hizbullah’s air defense capability to hit Israeli aircraft over the skies of Lebanon, which, he said, led to a decrease in Israel’s air operations in Lebanon. According to Hizbullah, reduced Israeli surveillance flights forced Israel to recruit more agents in Lebanon to compensate for the damage to its intelligence-gathering drones in the skies over Lebanon.
To openly demonstrate its capabilities, Hizbullah’s elite Radwan Force launched a drone into northern Israel, which was shot down and landed intact in Israeli territory. In response, on February 20, 2022, Hizbullah launched another drone which Hizbullah said hovered 40 minutes over a distance of 70 kilometers inside Israeli territory before it completed its mission and landed in Lebanon. The drone was named “Hassan” after the founder of Hizbullah’s drone force, Hassan al-Laqqis. Hizbullah presented the drone’s infiltration as a “new slap in the face” to Israel, quoting Israeli officials, who highlighted the “failure of the Israeli military and technological system to commandeer and shoot down the drone.” Hizbullah stressed that to cover for its “military failure,” Israeli jet fighters took a low-level flight over the skies of Beirut and the Hizbullah neighborhood of Dahiye.
In accelerating the use of aircraft of all kinds, Nasrallah signals that he is determined to challenge Israel from the air as well, a new and relatively easy course of action to take against Israel. Hizbullah’s implication is clear – Israel does not control airspace exclusively, and Hizbullah can violate Israeli sovereignty, enter the skies of the Galilee, and sow fear and anxiety across Israel’s north. As Hizbullah’s aircraft improve, with close Iranian assistance, its air threat to Israel will increase.
Moreover, for Hizbullah, the Israeli concept of “the campaign between the wars” has no bearing on Lebanon since the Shiite army is determined to maintain the balance of power with Israel and respond to every action against its forces. Nasrallah has expanded this unusual power equation against Israel outside of Lebanon to include Syria. He determined, in effect, that any harm to Hizbullah operatives in Syria would also provoke a backlash against Israel.
Nasrallah said that last summer Hizbullah carried out a large-scale exercise that was the largest since Hizbullah was established in 1982. Hizbullah also showed off on its Al Manar television its “Alpinist unit,” conducting winter exercises on snowmobiles and shooting in snow conditions at an altitude of 1380 meters in minus 2 degrees centegrade temperatures.
Nasrallah’s show of force comes against the backdrop of growing internal difficulties in Hizbullah due to the ongoing economic hardship in Lebanon, which also harms Hizbullah and its supporters. Sharp criticism from Hizbullah’s opponents accuses the organization of being Iran’s messenger boy and Nasrallah of personally representing the interests in Lebanon of Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei.
Nasrallah was recently forced to reiterate that “Hizbullah is Lebanese, from its top leadership to all its fighters, people, and environment. Hizbullah’s decisions are Lebanese. It takes into consideration the interests of Lebanon and its people. It is a friend and ally to Iran, but this does not oblige it with any commitment. Hizbullah makes its (own) decisions…and Iran doesn’t impose its dictates….Tell us of a single act that Hizbullah did for the sake of Iran rather than for the sake of Lebanon.”
Nasrallah’s explanations are greeted with contempt in Lebanon and beyond. The willingness to be Iran’s cannon fodder in Syria and sacrifice over 2,000 fighters and thousands of wounded not for jihad against Israel but for Iranian strategic purposes confronts Nasrallah with the reality that he serves as Khamenei ‘s representative in Lebanon, for all intents and purposes.
Moreover, Nasrallah noted that if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Iranian response will be harsh, and as for Hizbullah, “it will convene and decide how to respond and according to the circumstances.” In other words, Hizbullah’s reaction will not be automatic and will reflect Lebanon’s national interests. Really? Nasrallah throws sand in observers’ eyes and plays with words.
Two months ago, Nasrallah secretly visited Tehran, meeting with leader Ali Khamenei and senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force to discuss options and responses in case Israel attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities, as well as coordination between Iran and Hizbullah in this scenario. Iran’s directives to Hizbullah in the event of such an attack on its nuclear facilities are clear, sharp, without any other interpretation, and without the need for additional orders: launch long-range missiles at Tel Aviv and strategic targets deep inside Israel.
Nasrallah, meanwhile, defiantly called on Jews to leave Israel and return to their home countries, adding mockingly that “we are ready to bear the cost of their tickets.”
Hizbullah is in the thick of preparations for parliamentary elections in Lebanon this May. Hizbullah stresses that it seeks to hold the elections on time and rejects the possibility of delaying them. Hizbullah is concerned about the possibility of a decline in the electoral power of the National Patriotic Party, its ally in the Christian camp. Hizbullah appears to be working to strengthen its ties with the Christian camp and with its Shiite allies, led by Amal’s leader, Nabih Berry.
At the same time, Hizbullah is stepping up its attacks on the United States and particularly the involvement of the American ambassador in Beirut in internal Lebanese politics. The U.S. Embassy is accused of aiding and encouraging NGOs that work against Hizbullah, involvement in Lebanon’s economy, and being the cause of Lebanon’s financial crisis. American military assistance, and in particular the American financial assistance to pay the salaries of Lebanese army soldiers and officers, do not lower the height of Hizbullah’s flames of criticism. Ironically, the aid is welcome and most appreciated since it strengthens the Lebanese army, an ally of Hizbullah.
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