Suppressing Israeli Air Defences: Hezbollah Strikes Two Iron Dome Batteries in New Escalation

Following over two months of escalated hostilities between Israeli forces and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which were initiated by the latter in response to Israel’s initiation of ground operations into the Palestinian Gaza Strip, Hezbollah has reportedly begun to target Israeli air defence assets. A number of local media outlets have reported that strikes on December 18 for the first time hit two Iron Dome surface to air missile batteries. The Iron Dome is the lowest tier in Israel’s multi-layered air defence network and is intended to intercept short ranged, low altitude and relatively low cost assets such as rocket artillery and small drones. This contrasts to systems such as the Barak 8 and David’s Sling which are optimised to targeting assets such as aircraft and ballistic missiles. With both Hezbollah and Palestinian militias in the Gaza relying heavily on a range of rocket artillery assets to strike Israeli targets, eroding the capabilities of the Iron Done has the potential to serve as a force multiplier for future attacks. Hezbollah also deploys a range of drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. 

While the effectiveness of the Iron Dome system has frequently been called into question by its prior conflicts, the asset’s limited munitions and the extreme cost of each round fired has raised questions regarding how viable its protection may be – particularly against Hezbollah’s arsenals which are orders of magnitude more potent than those deployed by Palestinian groups. Shortages in surface to air munitions in the Israeli Defence Forces led the United States to make emergency deliveries of new assets shortly after hostilities between Gaza-based militias and Israeli forces broke out on October 7. The Iron Dome batteries reported to have been struck were based in the northern Kabri area near the Lebanese border, with the attack reportedly using artillery shells of unknown origin. It has been speculated that the rounds may have benefitted from precision guidance and targeting data provided by satellites or drones. After the attacks, air raid sirens were heard in the Israeli settlements of Dishon, Al Malikiya, Yiftah and Ramot Naftali. Hezbollah’s military capabilities have for over 17 years presented a unique challenge to Israeli security, with the militia considered to have inflicted the only military defeat on Israel in its history in 2006. Alongside hostilities on the Lebanese-Israeli border, Israel alongside Turkey and a number of Western states also extensively supported a range of Islamist insurgent groups in Syria aiming to overthrow the Hezbollah-aligned government in Damascus in the 2010s. Hezbollah’s key role in countering this insurgency led to growing references to a war by proxy between the militia and Israel.