Decoding Hezbollah’s Surface-to-Air Missile Threat: An In-depth Analysis

Hezbollah downed an Israeli Hermes 450 ‘Zik’ drone on February 26 using a surface-to-air missile, pro-Hezbollah media reported. The IDF said that a “UAV fell inside Lebanese territory” after two surface-to-air missiles were fired.

The use of surface-to-air missiles or SAMs to target Israeli drones is not new. Hezbollah has done this in the past. However, it has not downed many Israeli drones in the past. Targeting a Zik drone successfully is an escalation in the North. Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visited the North and vowed to continue to strike Hezbollah until it withdraws from the border.

The Zik drone is a type of Israeli drone that to conduct surveillance that can also conduct strikes. Israel uses a number of types of drones, from small quadcopters to larger drones that are the size of airplanes. The Zik is a medium-sized drone with a length of around 6 meters and a wingspan of 10 meters.

The IDF said the “David’s Sling Aerial Defense System intercepted a surface-to-air missile that was fired toward an Israeli Air Force UAV operating in Lebanon. Following the launch of the interceptor, sirens were sounded in the area of Alon Tavor in northern Israel. No injuries were reported.

Pro-Hezbollah Al-Mayadeen media said that Hezbollah downed a “Hermes 450 drone with a surface-to-air missile, over the Iqlim al-Tuffah area in southern Lebanon.” The Iranian-backed group said that the drone “fell from the sky” and was seen by locals. The “eyes of the mujahideen [Hezbollah] will remain watchful and will continue to confront the Israeli occupation aircraft and prevent them from achieving their aggressive goals,” the terrorist group said.

IDF strikes Hezbollah weapons storage facility. February 19, 2024. (credit: SCREENSHOT/IDF SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

Not the first time a surface-to-air missile has strayed across a border

Al-Mayadeen also reported on the sirens that sounded in the Jezreel valley, calling it the Marj Ibn Amer, the name for the same region in Arabic. The Al-Mayadeen report suggested that the sirens in the Marj Ibn Amer were due to the missile launched from Lebanon toward the Upper Galilee.

It was unclear if this was the same as the surface-to-air missile, but the implication was that the incident is the same one. This wouldn’t be the first time a surface-to-air missile also strayed over a border.

Hezbollah appeared happy about this escalation in the North. It also announced other attacks in northern Israel. “The operations were concentrated in the eastern sector, where six operations were carried out. The resistance fighters targeted a gathering of occupation soldiers in the vicinity of the Ramim (Honin) barracks with missile weapons, as well as the occupation artillery positions and the deployment of its soldiers south of Kiryat Shmona using missile and artillery weapons.

In addition Hezbollah claimed it targeted a barracks on Mount Dov, which Hezbollah calls the Sheba’a farms, where it used two “Falaq-1” missiles. It also targeted Manara and Malikiyah. Hezbollah has used anti-tank missiles to damage 500 buildings in northern Israel since October 8. “The two operations were carried out using appropriate weapons, and came as a response to the Israeli attacks on Lebanese villages and civilian homes, especially on the town of Blida,” Al-Mayadeen reported.

Hezbollah is closely watching developments in Israel. It knows that Israel wants Hezbollah to withdraw north of the Litani river. But it believes that Israel thinks it cannot push Hezbollah that far north. Hezbollah monitors the discussion in Israeli media, paying close attention to Channel 12 and 13 to make its own assessments of what Israel is thinking. An article at Israel’s Ynet on February 26 noted “to provide security for its citizens, Israel must go to war with Hezbollah.” Hezbollah is watching this debate unfold in Israeli society.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was at IDF Northern Command headquarters on February 25. “I have arrived at the Northern Command following a weekend during which the IDF struck Hezbollah. I came here to assess how we increase our firepower and prepare to operate against Hezbollah,” he said.

“We are striking their [Hezbollah] operatives and commanders. They are looking for replacements [for their operatives], and I can tell you that I don’t see any volunteers – everyone is afraid. We will continue to strike them down,” he noted. In addition, he said, “If anyone here thinks that when we reach an agreement to release hostages in the south and the fire stops [in Gaza] temporarily, this will make things easier here – they are mistaken. We will continue the fire, and we will do so independently from the South until we achieve our goals. The goal is simple – to withdraw Hezbollah to where it should be –  either via a [diplomatic] agreement, or we will do it by force.

Hezbollah and media in Lebanon were attuned to this visit. At 4:30am on February 26 Hezbollah launched a barrage of rockets at Israel and followed that up with another barrage at noon.