The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah has obtained advanced Russian-made anti-ship missiles, potentially threatening Israeli gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea and the Israeli Navy’s ability to operate in the area, according to a report published Sunday.
Hezbollah’s possession of the Yakhont missiles was revealed by unnamed Western intelligence officials over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference, where world leaders and defense ministers are meeting to discuss major security issues, according to a report in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth. The report did not reveal in what forum the revelations were made.
If true, Hezbollah’s possession of the missiles would represent a serious threat to Israeli interests in the Mediterranean; endangering both Israeli commercial vessels sailing in shipping lanes off the Lebanese coast and the ability of Israeli Navy ships to operate in and around Lebanese waters.
Most significantly, the missiles would give Hezbollah the ability to strike Israel’s gas production platforms in the Mediterranean, a threat Israel reportedly intends to counter by installing maritime versions of the Iron Dome missile defense system on naval vessels as part of the Israeli Navy’s efforts to secure the country’s natural gas fields.
Israeli security officials have previously said that advanced missiles such as the Yakhont falling into the hands of Hezbollah would constitute the crossing of a red line, and Israel is said to have targeted at least two shipments of Yakhont systems in 2013 from Syria to Hezbollah. Syria, one of Russia’s closest allies, has a large arsenal of the advanced anti-ship missiles.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, a number of airstrikes have been attributed to Israel, reportedly targeting convoys of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, as part of Israel’s policy to prevent the group from acquiring “game-changing” arms, in particular anti-aircraft systems, chemical weapons and other advanced weaponry such as the Yakhont.
In 2014, then defense-minister Moshe Ya’alon dismissed a report published in The Wall Street Journal alleging Hezbollah was in possession of at least 12 Yakhont systems, saying that Israel believed the Shiite terror group “does not have the missiles.”
During the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah successfully struck an Israeli naval warship off the coast of Lebanon using a Chinese-made C-802 anti-ship missile, killing four sailors.
The attack on the naval vessel surprised Israeli security officials, with an IDF officer telling the Haaretz daily at the time that “we were under the impression that we were operating beyond the range of missiles.”
On Thursday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted that Israel was surprised then and would be surprised again in any future conflict. “In 2006 you had intelligence of our ammunition but you were astonished with what you saw after figuring out that you didn’t have enough information. You will be surprised with what we are (now) hiding which could change the course of any war,” he said
The Yakhont, which was a reported range of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles), would give Hezbollah a significant upgrade over the C-802, which can reach up to a distance of 110 kilometers (68 miles).
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.