DIGITAL ARTICLE | COMMENTARIES by: Debalina Ghoshal
In its fight with the Israelis, Hezbollah is said to be receiving sophisticated missiles and weapon systems from countries like Iran and North Korea, receiving Fateh missiles with a range of 250-300 kilometers that can attack targets in Israel. There have also been reports that Iran is assisting building missile factories in Lebanon for Hezbollah. Weapons factories are also being built to develop missile guidance systems to improve the accuracy of missile systems.
According to an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson: “Lebanon is turning into one big missile factory, while much of the international community looks the other way. It’s no longer about transfers of arms, money or advice. De facto, Iran has opened a new branch, the Lebanon branch, and Tehran and Hezbollah are currently trying to build a precision missile factory.”
Iran is reported to have provided the sophisticated Kh-55 cruise missile to Houthi rebels in Yemen and there is every possibility that such systems could also be provided to Hezbollah, giving it greater range and an easier way to evade Israeli missile defense systems.
At the same, North Korea is also playing an integral role in Hezbollah’s missile development program. Not only missiles and rocket systems, but also providing advanced tunnel building technology to Hezbollah and Hamas, especially in the area south of the Litani River and bordering Israel resembling similar systems in the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea.
According to experts, some of these tunnels extend into Israel and can be used to store rockets and missiles, increasing their survivability. All these have made Hezbollah not only a tactical but also a strategic threat to Israel.
While the Iranian connection to Hezbollah is well understood as they wish to check Israel’s influence in the region through proxy wars and a forward deployment for Iranian weapon systems, North Korea’s ties with Hezbollah are solely commercial. North Korea is in dire need of hard cash due to international economic sanctions, so it could sell weapons systems to any state and non-state actors.
Hezbollah is also reported to have received Scud category missile systems from Syria. This is a concern, as Scuds would enable Hezbollah to fire the missiles away from the southern borders of Lebanon. However, the Lebanese government denounced the Israeli claim that Scud missiles were offered to Hezbollah.
There are also reports that Russia provided weapons systems, including surface-to-surface missiles, to Hezbollah. Moscow is a recent ally of Hezbollah owing to the Syrian crisis where Hezbollah supports Iran. Both Iran and Russia are fighting against rebel forces in Syria to protect the Assad regime. Hezbollah is providing Russia with intelligence on which targets to hit.
Most of these missiles are stationed in the heart of southern Lebanon’s civilian population region and can reach “each and every place in Israel.”
These missiles have been become a deterrent for Hezbollah as well as a medium for sending threatening messages to Israel. In 2017, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to destroy a nuclear reactor in Dimona. He further warned Israel, “[t]he Israeli nuclear weapon that represents a threat to the entire region” would be turned into a “threat to Israel.” He has also threatened to strike ammonia containers in Hafia with missiles that would generate the result of a nuclear bomb attack. Nasrallah also claimed some of its missile systems may not be intercepted successfully by Israeli missile defense systems.
Hezbollah in the past has fired rockets on Israeli towns and cities, and hence there is every reason to believe that it could fire sophisticated missile systems on Israel.
How Hezbollah arranges funds?
While funding comes from the Islamic Republic Group Corp (IRGC), it also comes through narco-terrorism. According to a 2017 report, Iran provides $800 million annually to Hezbollah. There are also reports that with the guidance of Iran, Hezbollah sells drugs in Latin American countries and launders the money back to Lebanon. The tri-borders of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina have been a network of smuggling that funds large sums of money to militia groups in the Middle East such as Hezbollah. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief in 2016 Michael Braun, Hezbollah has one of the “most sophisticated money laundering scheme or schemes that we have ever witnessed.”
Hezbollah has also been accused of drug trafficking in European countries and funding its activities from earnings from selling drugs. The group also receives donations from loyal supporters, including some in Europe, while it also receives funds through taxation and extortion, the operation of front companies and global investments, and money laundering through banks.
It could be possible that in the near future, Hezbollah may acquire nuclear warheads or crude bombs from North Korea and tips its missile systems with the same, thus jeopardizing strategic stability in the region and causing a dangerous arms race.
Debalina Ghoshal is an independent consultant specializing in nuclear, missile and missile defense issues.