April 26, 2013 | Policy Brief

Hezbollah’s Drone to Israel: Calculated Adventurism

April 26, 2013 | Policy Brief

Hezbollah’s Drone to Israel: Calculated Adventurism

On Thursday, Israeli fighter jets shot down a drone off of Haifa’s coastline. The drone, according to a statement from the Israeli military, was identified as it flew north to south along the Lebanese coastline. The Lebanese Hezbollah has denied responsibility, but it is the only likely perpetrator.

This is not the first time that Israel has taken out a Hezbollah drone. On October 7, 2012, a Hezbollah drone – “Ayoub” – penetrated Israeli airspace and was subsequently shot down. At the time, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, revealed that the drone was built by Iran and assembled by his group in Lebanon. “It’s not the first time [that a drone was sent] and it will not be the last. We can reach all areas [in Israel],” Nasrallah boasted.

If this most recent drone incursion is linked to Hezbollah, the timing is curious.  Hezbollah is currently involved in heavy fighting in Syria alongside the Assad regime. The fighting is of an explicitly sectarian nature, pitting Hezbollah’s Shia fighters against the predominantly Sunni Syrians. This conflict, while strategically crucial to safeguarding Hezbollah’s strategic depth in Syria, nevertheless poses a public relations problem.

The group has crafted an image of itself as a non-sectarian, pan-Islamic and pan-Arab “resistance” movement whose arsenal is dedicated to defending Lebanon against Israel. Hezbollah has used this image to gain legitimacy and expand Iranian influence in the Sunni Arab world. The war in Syria has stripped it of this veneer, as voices in Lebanon, including from within the Shia community and some of the families of Hezbollah fighters fallen in Syria, are now asking: What does the sectarian war in Syria have to do with resistance to Israel? Sending a drone into Israel serves as a reminder that Hezbollah is dedicated to fighting Israel, which remains the group’s real enemy.

The Shia group also has an interest in signaling to Israel that, despite its preoccupation with the war in Syria, it retains its combat readiness and capabilities.

The operation took place immediately after Nasrallah’s reported visit to Tehran and meeting with Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei. This suggests that the Hezbollah chief may have coordinated with the Iranian leader, which also might explain the caution with which Hezbollah has handled the episode. Officially, the group denied sending the drone. On the other hand, a news editorial on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV bragged about the operation without claiming responsibility.

In other words, through this limited provocation, Hezbollah wants to reap the public relations benefits without having to face a devastating Israeli retaliation that could lead to an all-out war that it seeks to avoid at this time.

Tony Badran is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Hezbollah Israel Lebanon