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analysisIsrael at War

Recent Hezbollah attacks a reminder of the limits of air defenses

Only a ground offensive coupled with massive air strikes can significantly dent Hezbollah’s firepower.

Smoke rises during an exchange of fire between the IDF and Hezbollah on the Lebanese border, Dec. 27, 2023. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.
Smoke rises during an exchange of fire between the IDF and Hezbollah on the Lebanese border, Dec. 27, 2023. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

Hezbollah’s increasingly intensive rocket barrages on northern Israel in recent days are a reminder that the Shi’ite terror army’s arsenal poses a real challenge for Israel’s air defenses. 

Hezbollah fired some 100 “Grad” rockets at northern Israel on Tuesday, and some 80 projectiles on March 10. The Israeli Air Force has been striking key Hezbollah assets in Baalbek, northern Lebanon, some 62 miles from the border, while peppering Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon with strikes as well. 

In recent days, Hezbollah has employed a mix of “Grad” rockets, guided anti-tank missiles, “Falaq” (Iranian-designed) rockets and unmanned aerial vehicles, according to Israel’s Alma Center non-profit organization, which specializes in security threats in the northern arena.

 The Israeli Air Force has, over the past five months, struck approximately 4,500 Hezbollah targets from the air and ground, in both Lebanon and Syria, including weapons facilities and military structures used to attack Israel, according to recent Israeli military data. 

In addition, Israel has eliminated over 300 Hezbollah terrorists and wounded more than 750 over the same period, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Hezbollah has killed six civilians (five Israelis and an Indian worker), and 10 Israeli military personnel since it began its attacks on October 8. 

However, while impressive, the IDF’s efforts on the northern front have so far been inherently limited in scope, as Israel has prioritized the war in Gaza.

Moreover, the fact of the matter is that despite the IDF’s efforts, Hezbollah’s barrages keep on coming, and even at this relatively low-intensity phase of the conflict, Hezbollah has been able to challenge Israeli air defenses to a certain degree. 

Certain attacks by Hezbollah have also provided hints regarding its ability to target strategic sites. 

On Feb. 14, Hezbollah rockets targeted the headquarters of IDF Northern Command in Safed, killing a soldier and wounding eight others. On Jan. 6, Hezbollah used Iranian-supplied extended range “Kornet” anti-tank missiles to damage the IAF’s air control base on Mount Meron, targeting radar installations. 

These attacks raised critical questions about the adequacy of existing defense measures to protect Israeli military assets near the border. There is no known kinetic defensive measure against anti-tank missile, unless one is sitting in an armored vehicle with an active protection system installed. Other measures, such as smoke screens and possibly electronic warfare, can help to deflect such attacks. 

While air defense systems like Iron Dome are highly capable of shooting down both guided and unguided rockets and missiles, they are insufficient for the defense of Israel’s northern communities, which is why Israel evacuated 43 northern communities located within five kilometers from the border with Lebanon—over 60,000 residents. (Some 20,000 others living close to the danger zone evacuated voluntarily.) 

The evacuations have set a terrible precedent, marking a major achievement for the fanatical Shi’ite Iranian-backed terror army. That some 90,000 Lebanese civilians are estimated to have left their homes in southern Lebanon does not bother Hezbollah much at all. 

Ultimately, the past five months have demonstrated that measured strikes and clinging to false hopes of diplomatic solutions will change little when it comes to the threat posed by Iran’s crown-jewel proxy force. 

Hezbollah’s arsenal is mostly intact—over 200,000 warheads—and most of its 50,000 active service operatives, many with battle experience from Syria, are also in place, ready for possible escalation.

If Hezbollah does not choose on its own accord to de-escalate, only an Israeli ground maneuver into southern Lebanon coupled with unprecedented Israeli airpower can extinguish this fire. But not before unprecedented levels of firepower are directed at Israel’s home front. 

in any full-scale war scenario, involving the saturation of Israeli skies with thousands of projectiles, it is clear that a certain percentage of rockets, missiles and UAVs will penetrate the air defenses and reach their targets in northern and central Israel. 

Hezbollah could in the opening stages of a war fire some 10,000 warheads (including mortars) a day at the north and around 1,000 at central Israel, including heavy warheads on missiles like the “Fateh 110,” that can destroy entire buildings. 

According to previous IDF assessments, a full-scale war would see around 120 destruction sites in Israel and thousands of partially damaged apartments.  

Hezbollah’s precision guided missiles would presumably be used to target strategically critical sites. 

However, the damage in Lebanon would be incomparably worse. 

Whether or not this scenario occurs in the near future is anyone’s guess, but one thing is clear: Relying on limited strikes and air defenses, or cosmetic, window-dressing “diplomatic solutions,” will never be sufficient to remove Hezbollah’s war machine in Lebanon.

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