BICOM Briefing: Hezbollah's Precision Missile Project

February 1, 2019

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile

Publication: 

Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • European countries have been critical of Iranian missile tests but a more urgent and alarming regional threat is Iran’s project to upgrade Hezbollah missiles into precision guided missiles. These would enable the Lebanese group to accurately target critical Israeli infrastructure and constitutes a significant threat to Israel’s security.
  • The Hezbollah Precision Missile project is a test case that could be replicated. After infrastructure has been put in place, evidence suggests that missiles can be converted into precision guided missiles in just a few hours at a cost of $5,000- $10,000. Iran has already attempted to utilise this technology for its Houthi allies in Yemen, a move which could put US bases in the Gulf under significant risk.
  • Iran sought originally to deliver advanced precision missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria, with these efforts intensifying during the Syrian civil war. Israel declared that the supply of such weapons was a ‘red-line’ and has carried out air strikes to prevent them reaching Hezbollah by targeting storage facilities, weapons convoys, and research and production facilities in Syria.
  • As a result, Iran launched a new initiative to fit GPS guidance packs onto ‘dumb’ medium range Zelzal 2 missiles, of which Hezbollah is thought to possess 14,000 and which are already located in Lebanon. Relevant components are transported from Iran to factories in Syria and Lebanon, either by land, or by air via Damascus, using civilian aircraft.
  • Once in the factory, an existing section of the Zelzal 2 is removed and replaced with a new section which includes a GPS type navigation system; a command and guidance system; and a control system (for applying guidance commands and steering the missile). This transforms the Zelzal 2 into something similar to a Fateh 110 missile.
  • It is not clear how many precision missiles Hezbollah currently has, with estimates ranging from the low 20 to 200. But even a small number of missiles could do serious damage to Israel – which is a small, densely populated country with all its key industrial and critical infrastructure sites concentrated in a small number of locations. Hezbollah has already threatened to attack power stations, air force bases, the Haifa oil refinery, the nuclear reactor close to Dimona, and the ‘Kirya’ Ministry of Defence and IDF Headquarters in central Tel Aviv.
  • Israel has been developing missile defence systems since the 1980s. Yet whilst the country’s capabilities are arguably the most comprehensive and capable in the world, they cannot provide hermetic protection. And with limited batteries available, Israel may be forced to make a choice between protecting critical infrastructure or population centres.
  • Israeli decision makers face a dilemma over how best to counter Hezbollah’s Precision Missile project. Israel could launch a preemptive strike inside Lebanon to destroy missile factories, but this could trigger a wider conflagration with Hezbollah. In light of this, Israel is currently focused on issuing public warnings to Hezbollah and the Government of Lebanon including revealing secret intelligence to maximise impact.
  • The US and key European states including the UK, France and Germany can play an important role preventing an escalation in Lebanon. One option would be to publicly warn Hezbollah and the Lebanese Government that they are aware of the precision project and to make clear that the project is a direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. If these warnings fail to make an impact then they should consider initiating tough sanctions against those involved in the project from Hezbollah and the IRGC. 

Read the full report at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.