Beirut UAV raid, blamed on Israel, said to hit Hezbollah precision missile parts

Drones targeted two components necessary to turn terror group’s simple rockets into accurate missiles, according to unsourced UK Times article

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Damage inside the media office of Hezbollah in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, August 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Damage inside the media office of Hezbollah in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, August 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

A drone attack on a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut early Sunday that was attributed to Israel targeted the Lebanese terror group’s precision missile project, the British Times newspaper reported Tuesday.

In the predawn hours of Sunday morning, two copter-style drones crashed in the Dahiyeh neighborhood of Beirut, an area of the city known to house Hezbollah members and offices.

One of the unmanned aerial vehicles was reportedly brought down by teenagers who pelted it with rocks. It was recovered by Hezbollah and taken away for study. The other drone exploded while still in the air, causing damage, according to Lebanese officials.

Hezbollah has claimed that its media offices were damaged by the blast.

However, according to the Times, the explosion set fire to two crates that held materials for a Hezbollah program to turn its stock of simple rockets into precision-guided missiles — a project that is of deep concern to Israel as it would significantly increase the threat posed by these projectiles.

One of the crates contained a “computerized control” unit and the other held a specialized industrial mixer that is used to make solid-state fuel, the Times reported, providing no source for the information.

The outlet said that these two crates were being held in Dahiyeh temporarily before being transferred to the factory where the actual work on the precision missile project was being performed.

Israel has accused the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group of setting up factories in Lebanon to develop precision-guided missiles and vowed to thwart its efforts. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has denied the existence of the factories but said his organization does possess such weaponry.

Hezbollah and the Lebanese government have blamed Israel for the drone strike earlier this week. However, the model of UAV used in the attack has raised considerable questions about the drones’ provenance. Israeli officials have refused to comment on the event.

The reported Beirut drone attack came after Israel on Saturday carried out airstrikes in neighboring Syria to thwart what it said was a plot to fly explosives-laden drones into the country.

Sympathizers of the Shiite Hezbollah terror group gather to watch the transmission on a large screen of a speech by the movement’s leader Hasan Nasrallah, in the town of Al-Ain in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley on August 25, 2019. (AFP)

Nasrallah on Sunday said two Hezbollah members were among those killed in the Syria strike. They were buried in Beirut’s southern suburbs on Monday, amid a large turnout of party supporters.

On Tuesday, Hezbollah said the drone that crashed in Beirut contained an explosive device weighing more than five kilograms (11 pounds).

“Experts dismantled the first drone that crashed in Beirut’s southern suburbs, it was found that it contained a sealed explosive device” of around 5.5 kilograms, Hezbollah said in a statement.

“We confirm that the purpose of this first drone was not reconnaissance but the carrying out of a bombing attack,” it added.

The latest discovery, Hezbollah said, confirms that Sunday’s drone attack involved not one but two explosive-rigged drones — one which exploded and the other that did not because of a technical failure.

While both Hezbollah and the Lebanese military insist the drones were sent by Israel, several well-connected Israeli commentators, including a former IDF general, said the drones appeared to be of Iranian origin.

Official Lebanese state media released a photograph of the quadcopter-style UAV that crashed. It appears to be based on a civilian model with extremely limited range that the Israeli military would likely be unable or uninterested in using for a sensitive operation like conducting reconnaissance on, or attacking, a Hezbollah stronghold.

A drone that crashed in the Lebanese capital of Beirut on August 25, 2019. (Lebanese state media)

Earlier on Monday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun denounced the alleged Israeli drone attack as a “declaration of war.”

It was the first such “hostile action” in Lebanon since a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, the Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday, vowing retaliation.

Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, is a major political actor in Lebanon and also a key government backer in war-torn Syria.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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