Could the Hezbollah Drone Air Strip in Lebanon Launch Conventional and BW Attacks Against Israel?

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Hezbollah Drone Airstrip Lebanon

Source: IHS Jane’s

April 23, 2015 IHS Jane’s revealed satellite photos of what appeared to be an airstrip in Northern Lebanon making note of Hezbollah active drone program ostensibly used against Syrian rebels.   The Washington Times reported:

Satellite imagery suggests that Hezbollah has constructed a drone airstrip in Lebanon, roughly 10 miles from Syria’s border, to fly Iranian-made drones.

The global risk company IHS reported Thursday on the existence of a site used for unmanned aerial vehicles in the northern Bekaa Valley. The images, now available on Google Earth, indicate that the airstrip was created between February 2013 and June 2014.

Hezbollah sources confirmed the organization is using UAVs to support operations against rebel forces in Syria, “particularly over the mountainous Qalamoun region on Lebanon’s eastern border,” IHS reported.

Hezbollah, which is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, was responsible for a drone that was shot down over Israel Oct. 6, 2012, The Telegraph reported Friday.

IHS Jane’s reported that the organization may be operating Iranian-made Ababil-3 or Shahed-129 aircraft at the site.

Iranian Ababil-3 “Swallow” Drone

According to a report from  Army Recognition website the Ababil-3 “Swallow, is capable of flying a top speed of 200 kilometers per hour has a night vision capability, enabling it  take and transmit high definition imagery  from targets day and night. The drone has a flying range of 100 kilometers, ceiling of 5,000 meters, and flight duration of 4 hours and a top speed of 200 kilometers per hour.  The Shahed -129 is a fully capable UCAV capable of undertaking missions attacking targets with missiles.  The Aviationist  in a report on the Shahed-129 caught on video flying near Damascus in April 2014 noted:

A “Shahed 129?, type of drone based on the Israeli Hermes 450 model or the Watchkeeper 450 model, but larger than those types, was spotted over Syria on Apr. 10.The Shahed 129 is a remotely piloted vehicle claimed to have an endurance of 24 hours and an operative range up to 2,000 kilometers. Noteworthy, in September 2013, Tehran unveiled a version of Shahed 129 domestically modified to carry weapons, making the Iranian drone a real UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle).

Watch this Army.com video of the 2013 introduction of the Shahed 129:    

Both Iranian proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, have used Iranian supplied Ababil drones in surveillance of targets in Israel, as well.  In October 2012, the IAF shot down a Hezbollah drone in the Negev that presumably was headed for Dimona, Israel’s nuclear development center. That was the latest such interception of drones over Israel by the IAF.  Iran has a sophisticated Drone program as evidenced by its ability to allegedly reverse engineer a CIA Sentinel RQ -170 drone that crash in Northeastern Iran in 2011. An alleged Iranian copy of the RQ-170 was displayed in November 2011.   The full repertoire of Iranian drone developments can be found in this report, “Iran’s Many Drones” by The Drone Center.

Ababil Iranian UAV launch ready

What should be concerning is the current capability to mobile launch small payload Ababil drones equipped with Class A Pathogens, a threat that noted bio –warfare  expert  Dr. Jill Bellamy disclosed in a June  2013 NER article, Hezbollah’s UAV Biological Weapon Capability: A Game Changer?”:

Unmanned aerial vehicles have similar flight characteristics to cruise missiles, but are under active human guidance and thus are more flexible. They would be especially attractive for biological weapons delivery.

[…]

The merging of Syria’s biological weapon program with Hezbollah and/or Iran’s UAV programs could create an international public health emergency more catastrophic than a natural outbreak.

[…]

Iran is believed to have supplied Hezbollah with 12 Ababil UAVs.3 The Ababil carries an 88 pound conventional payload, with a range of approximately 150 miles. Given the unique characteristics of UAV’s it is conceivable that Hezbollah, under orders from Iran, and provided with advanced technology could deploy biological weapons utilizing this platform.

 […]

To put the threat Hezbollah’s potential BW program poses and the possible use of their current UAV stockpile as a deployment platform into clearer focus, in 2005, France’s Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin, at an Interpol bio-terrorism conference held in Lyon, emphasized that nowadays terrorists are highly likely to use weapons of mass destruction including biological weapons. Given Hezbollah’s possible laboratories, they could easily maintain an advanced BW capability. Hezbollah’s state sponsorship by both Syria and Iran vastly increase their ability to successfully deploy BW using UAV’s.

Weaponizing biological agents suitable for a UAV payload requires stabilization and field testing techniques which are available to nearly all national military defense laboratories such as those that exist today in Syria and Iran. Technical thresholds such as stabilization, field testing and dispersal are factors which determine not only kill ratios of a weaponized agent, but the success rate a terrorist group or organization is likely to achieve. Hezbollah’s BW capability should be considered as synonymous with that of Iran. In this sense it would be far more lethal, more likely to go global and produce pandemic disease. 

On the technical side, Hezbollah has been trained by Iran’s Quds forces in Sudan on BW. The type of BW is likely to be highly advanced, not a homemade version of anthrax collected from soil samples. Additionally, BW received from Syrian programs running at the SSRC in Damascus, is technically very sophisticated. Iran would have the capability to provide Hezbollah with technical mounting of UAV’s with BW. Moreover, in contrast to a conventional payload which may present issues of accuracy, a biological payload does not.

The discovery of the Hezbollah drone airstrip raises the question of its capability to launch not only surveillance/intelligence mission over Israel, but as Dr. Bellamy has pointed out,  possible UAV attacks against Israel equipped with bio-warfare payloads. 

 

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