Israeli Air Force routine missions over Lebanon’s airspace have been confronting in recent months a new kind of nuisance: Hezbollah provocations. According to security apparatus sources in Israel speaking to Walla, since the Russian military has begun its operations in Syria, including building military bases, Hezbollah has begun to lock its anti-aircraft missiles’ radar across Lebanon on incoming Israeli warplanes.
Those same IDF sources estimate that the increased Hezbollah provocations are the result of the tightening relationship between Russia and Hezbollah, as part of the campaign against ISIS in Syria. “The ties between Hezbollah and Syria and Russia have completely changed the rules of the game in the region — despite the [Russian-Israeli] coordination. Hezbollah is signaling to Israel that it’s prepared for the next phase,” the source said.
During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah managed to hit only one Israeli aircraft — a Yasur helicopter that was hit by a ground-to-air missile. At the time the gap between the IAF and the operational capacity of Hezbollah prevented the latter from seriously threatening Israeli planes. But after the war Hezbollah launched an intensive process of absorbing advanced Iranian anti-aircraft weapons systems.
Over the past few years, the IAF has attacked several weapons convoys on their way from Syria to Lebanon, and also destroyed mobile anti-aircraft systems that were on their way to Hezbollah. The organization’s leader Hassan Nasrallah openly referred to the attacks, warning Israel it would pay a high price for them. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has warned in the past two years that Israel has “red lines” which would not be crossed, and that it would not permit the “leaking” of weapons from Syria to Lebanon.
Nevertheless, the IDF believes that Hezbollah has managed to smuggle anti-aircraft systems, some of them old, such as the Russian-made SA-5, which is capable of downing cargo and reconnaissance aircraft, but not warplanes. Still, the possibility of the presence of more advanced systems in the area is bound to limit the IAF freedom of movement over Lebanon.