Netanyahu threatens escalation as Hezbollah intensifies drone tactics

Lebanon's powerful armed group is increasingly using new tactics in the eight-month-old conflict

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said he was "prepared for a very intense action" at the border with Lebanon and vowed to restore security to his country.

"We said, at the start of the war, that we would restore security in both the south and the north – and this is what we are doing," he said in a video taken near the border.

Mr Netanyahu was speaking during a visit to the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, a flashpoint for a string of massive fires that blazed across the northern border region this week. The fires were sparked at least in part by rockets and drones launched from Lebanon by Hezbollah.

The Prime Minister spoke to emergency workers and was briefed on the damage caused by eight months of daily battles with the powerful Lebanese paramilitary.

"Yesterday the ground burned here and I am pleased that you have extinguished it, but ground also burned in Lebanon," Mr Netanyahu said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Hezbollah released a video that appeared to show a drone-guided artillery strike on a $50 million Israeli Iron Dome air defence battery – raising fears of further escalation on the border as Israel mobilises thousands of reservists.

It is unclear whether the Iron Dome battery was damaged or destroyed, with the images showing artillery shells exploding near the site, followed by a pall of dusty smoke.

The attack represents another advance in tactics used by Hezbollah as it moves from its long-expected approach to war with Israel, which was to saturate enemy territory with as many as 100,000 rockets, the majority of them unguided and inaccurate.

Many of those rockets – including more expensive guided missiles – can be intercepted by the Iron Dome system, which has taken down thousands of Hamas and Hezbollah rockets since war in Gaza erupted on October 7, a conflict the Lebanese militant group joined on Israel’s northern front on October 8.

Destroying an Iron Dome battery would be a major goal for Hezbollah as it opens up new avenues of attack into northern Israel and demonstrates the vulnerability of Israel’s much-vaunted air defences.

Hezbollah strikes on northern Israel sparked large fires near the border earlier this week, as Israeli officials said they are ready for a "major offensive" in the area.

An extra 50,000 reservists will be mobilised ahead of a potential escalation, Israeli media reported on Wednesday, with the initial quota of 300,000 troops increased to 350,000. The decision is expected to be formally approved by the government on Wednesday afternoon.

Using drones to guide artillery fire is increasingly becoming standard in modern military tactics. It was first used by US forces in the 1991 Gulf War, when a drone was used to guide naval artillery on to Iraqi positions.

More recently, the tactic has become a mainstay of Ukrainian and Russian forces, to devastating effect on each side.

Military experts sometimes call this the reconnaissance strike complex – integrating observation to strike targets quickly, at long range.

Drone war

Hezbollah has employed a range of new approaches in its war with Israel, including attempts to destroy Israeli observation balloons such as the $230 million Sky Dew blimp that was destroyed on May 15, denting Israel’s reconnaissance capability.

Hezbollah also used drones to fire rockets for the first time, striking an Israeli base in Metula on May 16 and wounding soldiers.

Israel uses its own drones, such as the $5 million Hermes 900, for reconnaissance and strike operations in Lebanon. It also launches air strikes from manned aircraft and conducts artillery strikes into Lebanon on a daily basis.

Hezbollah has shot down several Israeli drones using portable surface-to-air missiles.

Israeli missiles have killed about 80 civilians and around 300 Hezbollah members in Lebanon since October 7, according to a Reuters tally of deaths announced by medical and security sources.

Rockets fired from Lebanon have killed 18 soldiers and 10 civilians, the Israeli military said.

In at least one air strike, Israel claims to have hit a Hezbollah drone specialist.

On Tuesday, Israeli reservist Brig Gen Zvika Haimovich told Israel’s Radio North that the current conflict with Hezbollah could “be called a drone war”.

“It's not the main thing Hezbollah uses but they do have the ability to use it while our side has a weakness,” he said.

A major concern is around the use of a swarm of “dozens or hundreds of drones”, said Brig Gen Haimovich, comparing it to Iran’s April 14 attack that involved low-flying drones, as well as cruise and ballistic missiles, in an attempt to overwhelm Israel's air defences.

Updated: June 06, 2024, 3:13 AM