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Drones: A new threat to the Israeli home front

February 23, 2022 at 6:15 pm

Military drones at the Hezbollah memorial landmark in the hilltop bastion of Mleeta on May 22, 2020 [JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images]

The Israeli military and security establishment is still preoccupied with the threat of drones that have recently emerged from both the Gaza and Lebanon fronts. The Palestinian and Lebanese Resistance revealed a sample of drones they own, which means they have been working to improve their capabilities in this field for a while in order to undermine the superiority of the Israeli Air Force. A number of drones have, indeed, managed to penetrate the Israeli airspace and return safely.

The Israeli military believes that these drones are part of a secret plan by hostile forces in the region to build a wide range air force that will be put into action against sensitive areas in Israel, in case of a large-scale military escalation. Last week’s drones bring to mind the first drone launched by Hezbollah in November 2004, when it managed to infiltrate Israeli airspace for 18 minutes, and safely returned to its base in Lebanon.

Since then, 18 years of building strength and empowerment with the help of Iran’s defence industries, army and Revolutionary Guards have passed. This means that Hezbollah has dozens of drones, some of which are used for photography and intelligence gathering, while others are used for offensive missions, as in the case of infiltration that took place in 2005. The 2006 Second Lebanon War also witnessed attempts for these drones to infiltrate the occupied Palestinian territories, but the Air Force intercepted and shot them down. Also, in October 2012, a plane was launched from Lebanon across the Mediterranean, and the Air Force intercepted it.

READ: Messages from Hezbollah’s drones

It is no longer a secret that the Israeli army and its security services monitor efforts of the Palestinian and Lebanese Resistance to operate these drones. They are getting ready to have the drones carry missiles in the future, as well as use them for gathering intelligence. These resistance groups, according to Israeli allegations, receive arms shipments that include various types of drones and they boast about their ability to produce them internally as well.

The Israeli security and military circles claim that hostile entities have hundreds of types drones with different ranges and sizes that can carry out multiple tasks, and that they exchange such capabilities amongst themselves. These groups are keen on acquiring conventional and advanced weapons, which shows that they no longer worry about Israeli deterrence and that they act according to their own interests, away from Israeli threats.

At the same time, Israeli military circles stopped at the fact that Israeli combat planes, helicopters and Iron Dome missiles failed to shoot down a drone that arrived from Lebanon. This incident has posed a new challenge to the occupation, one it did not have to worry about in previous military rounds. This is especially important since these drones can simply be purchased through the internet, and there are many more dangerous types out there.

Hezbollah had previously used some small drones it obtained from Iran, and others it manufactured locally. This prompted the Israeli military establishment to search for inexpensive solutions to this threat that has spread throughout the Middle East. Even though Israel recently announced the readiness of its laser-based interception system, it has not been that successful.

The drone entering Israel from southern Lebanon caused a state of panic among the settlers in north Israel. Despite the launching of helicopter gunships at it, activating the Iron Dome and setting off two alarms in the area, the drone was able to escape from all these systems and return to Lebanon unharmed.

These smaller and more difficult-to-intercept drones have long been operating on every battlefield in the Middle East. Once only in the hands of powerful states and armies, they are now getting into the hands of local forces and armed organisations, perhaps because they are relatively inexpensive, albeit pose a great threat. This has prompted the Israeli military establishment to keep looking for a long time for ways to deal with them.

It is not a secret that these drones have become a source of great threat and concern to the occupation. It has become very easy to carry out hostile attacks using them, and very easy to acquire swarms of them, especially since they are very cheap. In return, the cost of intercepting them, although not very successful at the moment, is very high. Meanwhile, Israel has announced that it is going to start using laser interception system, which is less expensive. The cost of each Iron Dome interceptor missile is 50 thousand dollars, which makes it difficult for the army to deal with swarms of drones in time of war.

READ: Lebanon’s Hezbollah says it successfully flew drone over Israel

At the same time, the occupation seems to need a cheaper and more efficient response, in light of the fact that this type of aircraft is now in the possession of almost all anti-occupation groups, all of which pose threats against it. Israeli estimates indicate that Iran is one of the most active countries in terms of possession of these drones. Not only does Iran develop them locally, but it also works on spreading its capabilities to all surrounding armed groups in the region, especially in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Palestine.

These drones have repeatedly tried to infiltrate Israeli airspace while, in return, there is currently a significant decrease in the number of Israeli drones operating in the airspace of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, as compared to previous periods when Israel used to deploy drones more often to gather information. Today things are different because they are in danger of being shot down inside Lebanon and Gaza, and therefore drones entering these airspaces are in need of being protected by the air force.

The Israeli military is concerned about the failure of the various defence systems to shoot these drones down, wondering what the situation would be like if swarms of them were launched, from several fronts, simultaneously. This raises the question of how Israel will deal with these more serious threats when they become more real. Right now, air raid sirens are blaring in the north borders with Lebanon, rather than the southern ones with Gaza. This is increasing the risks of these drones and pushes the Israeli army to look for real solutions to the problem.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.