Hezbollah Debuts Its Armed UAV Capability
Haaretz has details on the attack which damaged an Israeli naval vessel, by an UAV, in the dark and while operating 16 km from the Lebanese coast.
An explosives-laden drone, apparently launched by Hezbollah, hit an Israel Navy warship off the coast of Beirut, causing serious damage to its steering capability, Israel Defense Forces confirmed Friday night. The incident occurred at around 8:30 P.M., as the ship was some 16 kilometers from the Lebanese coast. The blast caused a fire close to the helicopter landing pad onboard. The ship's steering mechanism also sustained some damage. Several hours after the vessel was hit, an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman said the damage was worse than originally thought. She added that the ship, still burning, was being towed back to Israel. There were some 80 people on board the ship when it was hit.
This is a major warship operating in line of sight, but beyond normal nighttime visual range. According to the Security Watchtower, the drone was probably a Mirsad-1.
A Hezbollah unmanned aerial drone crashed into an Israeli warship off the Mediterranean coast on Friday, damaging the steering of the vessel. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah claimed the ship had been sunk. The UAV was likely a Mirsad-1, built by the Iranian state owned Qods Aviation Industry. On previous occasions, Nasrallah has boasted that "you can load the Mirsad plane with a quantity of explosive ranging from 40 to 50 kilos and send it to its target."
In 2005, U.S. and Israeli intelligence noted that Iranian soldiers were stationed in southern Lebanon where they operated the Mirsad-1, eight of which are believed to have been given by Iran to Hezbollah. Reports indicate that an estimated 30 Hezbollah operatives have completed training in Isfahan, Iran. Asked about the threat of the UAV's, Joseph Cirincione, a weapons expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said "the danger is that Hezbollah will now have the capability to inflict greater damage on Israel by more precise targeting."
An attack at this distance, by night on a warship indicates a very high level of targeting skill. A capability beyond Hezbollah's own limited resources. This suggests that Iranian technical assistance to its client has been extensive and thorough. In some ways, this incident is reminiscent of the use of Saggers and integrated air defense by the Egyptian Army during the Yom Kippur War. Iran had anticipated what Israel would do and prepared for it. It is now not out of the question that Hezbollah may have MANPADs or very long range, perhaps even guided rockets. With what warheads we can only guess, but chemical is not out of the question. The stricken Israeli warship is major combatant on the scale of navies in the area. Although not sunk, it has been mission killed. This is a spectacular naval victory for Hezbollah.
But it also brings Israel and Iran closer to direct combat. With proof that advanced weapons are now in the hands of Hezbollah, it becomes absolutely impossible for Israel to consider Hezbollah in isolation from its armorers. The diplomatic efforts to date are now imperiled by this grave development.