June 27, 2024 | National Security Journal

Hezbollah’s Missiles And Growing Military Might Are A True Threat

June 27, 2024 | National Security Journal

Hezbollah’s Missiles And Growing Military Might Are A True Threat

Unpacking the Capability Behind Hezbollah’s Threat to Expand its War: Less than a day after U.S. Special Envoy Amos Hochstein was in Beirut to again meet with Lebanese officials to press for an “urgent” end to the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah took to the airwaves to once again threaten to expand the conflict against Israel to new geographies. 

“The enemy knows that what awaits it in the Mediterranean Sea is also very significant,” said Nasrallah. “The Cypriot government should be warned that opening its airports and bases to the enemy to target Lebanon means it has become part of the war.”

Rather than dismiss these statements as mere bluster, European Union and Israeli officials should know that Hezbollah has the capability to act on these threats. This is largely due to the material support of its patron in Tehran and its terrorist network. 

While Iran’s use of existing air and land routes to supply both the Assad regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon is well known, on June 23, whistleblowers at the Beirut airport shared their concerns with The Telegraph newspaper and reportedly claimed that a significant amount of weaponry had been arriving at the Beirut airport courtesy of Tehran.

The report alleged that Iranian Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and their Syrian copy, the M-600, were being sent to Hezbollah, along with Falaq rockets, Russian Kornet anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), and the newly developed Burkan improvised rocket-assisted munition (IRAM). 

Since at least 2014, Iranian outlets have bragged that Dimona, home to Israel’s nuclear reactor, was within range of Iran’s Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missile (SRBM), a statement designed to imply that this capability was already forward deployed in the Levant. Produced in Iran in the early 2000’s, the Fateh-110 is a single-stage solid-fuel SRBM capable of delivering a 450-500 kg high-explosive warhead between 250-300 km. 

The Fateh has since become the progenitor for two important revolutions in Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal, namely the move towards more solid-propellant projectiles and precision-strike capabilities. Variants of the Fateh with increased ranges and improved precision have been used in every military operation launched from Iranian territory over the past decade. But this change has not been limited to just Iran’s arsenal. The Islamic Republic has been helping Hezbollah develop ‘homemade’ Fateh-110s by providing the Lebanese terror group with kits to retrofit projectiles with fins, finlets, and technology for guidance and control to turn a rocket into a precision-guided munition (PGM), or plainly, into a missile. By one estimate, 1,500 of Hezbollah’s arsenal of nearly 200,000 projectiles (inclusive of mortars, rockets, missiles, and drones) are PGMs.

While rocketsATGMsIRAMs, and even suicide drones have been used by Hezbollah against Israel over the past eight months, ballistic missiles and PGMs have not. In addition to having the capability to target most of Israel and cause major damage if nested in a larger volley when fired from Lebanon, the Fateh-110 also puts Cyprus well within range of Hezbollah’s most advanced surface-to-surface missile (SSM).

Cyprus being a central part of the international effort to send humanitarian aid to Gaza notwithstanding, Nasrallah’s intimidation of Cyprus comes in the shadow of nearly a decade of deepening Israeli engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean and ties with the Cypriot military. This includes the reported purchase of the Iron Dome air defense system by Nicosia following the purchase of land surveillance equipment from Jerusalem, as well as an series of land and naval drills. Cyprus is also home to a large Western military presence inclusive of a British base at Akrotiri. This is where UK forces launched from against the Assad regime’s chemical weapons facilities in Syria in 2018, and more recently, from where the UK launched fighter jets to reportedly help defend against aerial threats during Iran’s attack against Israel in April. 

While it is unclear what Hezbollah might seek to target in Cyprus other than foreign bases, the threat could be part of a larger gamble to further internationalize the conflict in the hopes of constraining Israel. Nasrallah’s other threat, however, to bring the conflict into the Mediterranean Sea is rooted in something more concrete. During the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel War, the group fired what is believed to be a Chinese C-802 anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) that Iran copies and produces under the name of the Noor and the longer-range Ghader ASCMs. The target was an Israeli corvette. The attack killed four Israeli servicepersons and damaged the vessel, which is still in service today.

Since that conflict, on at least three occasions – 20142017, and 2023 – media outlets reported that Hezbollah has taken delivery of a much more advanced ASCM via Syria, the Russian Yakhont. The Yakhont is a supersonic ASCM that would represent a game-changing anti-ship capability in the hands of Hezbollah. The Yakhont features a ramjet engine capable of delivering a 200-250 kg warhead to its target up to 300 km away at twice the speed of sound. 

This would not only threaten vessels docking in and around Cyprus, Israeli naval assets and Israel’s various energy interests across the Eastern Mediterranean, but potentially even U.S. naval vessels operating in and around the Mediterranean basin within the Yakhont’s range. While Hezbollah’s patron in Tehran does not possess the Yakhont, it does have other ASCMs that like the Abu Mahdi, which has a reported range of 1,000 km. It is unclear if Iran has provided Hezbollah with this longer-range ASCM.

Some outlets have alleged however that Hezbollah may be in possession of other Iran-backed capabilities like anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), the kind of projectile the Houthis are using to threaten Red Sea and Gulf of Aden traffic. But to date, no image or video of their transfer, parading, or testing has been seen online to verify this claim. This means that to date, the Houthis are the only Iranian proxy with ASBMs.

Unlike other members of the ‘Axis of Resistance’ – a constellation of terror and proxy groups created or co-opted by Iran – which waited weeks after the October 7 terrorist attack before entering the fight against Israel (and later, U.S. forces), Hezbollah wasted no time. On October 8, as Israel was still counting bodies, Hezbollah opened fire against the Jewish state, creating an internal displacement crisis that lingers to this day.

Since then, deterrence against Hezbollah failed to be restored by various waves of Israeli military pushback to include targeting it’s elite Radwan Forces. Worse, Hezbollah has advanced a version of its patron’s strategy of graduated escalation against Israel that now indicates the terror group believes the political utility of continuing to step-up the conflict still outweighs any military losses it has incurred. 

Thus, the bind that Hezbollah was believed to be in last fall about more overtly entering the conflict against Israel appears to be dissipating. So too, then, should thinking of the group’s military capabilities as merely a deterrent in the case of a larger war against Iran or an attack on Tehran’s nuclear program. As seen in Nasrallah’s threat against Cyprus, Hezbollah’s evolving military capabilities are further complicating the regional picture and are underwriting an increased risk-tolerance in the terror group. American, European, and perhaps most importantly, Israeli policymakers ignore this development at their own risk.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in Washington DC. Follow FDD’s Iran program on X at: FDD_Iran.


Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power