Hezbollah unveils air defence missile for first time

Clashes between Hezbollah and Israel have peaked over recent weeks, with Israel signalling it could launch a larger operation in south Lebanon. [Getty]

Hezbollah announced it used an air defence missile on Thursday which forced an Israeli jet to retreat from Lebanese airspace, the first time the group acknowledged it had the capacity to target fighter jets.

The Lebanese group said in a statement that it fired air defence missiles at Israeli warplanes “which were attacking our skies … forcing them to retreat beyond the border.”

Hezbollah did not give further specifications about the anti-aircraft missile, as it usually does when unveiling new weaponry.

“We still do not know much about the air defence missile itself, but it will restrain the ability of Israel to fly freely over Lebanon,”  retired Lebanese General Amine Hoteit told The New Arab.

The demonstration of Hezbollah’s anti-aircraft capacity come as Israel threatens to launch an “intense operation” in south Lebanon. Though both Hezbollah and Israel have said they do not want a full-scale war, the intensity of fighting has reached peaked after eight months of tit-for-tat strikes.

Previously, the extent of Hezbollah’s air defence capacity was to down Israeli drones – itself seen as an achievement for the group, as it had not done so regularly prior to October.

Hezbollah has repeatedly said that it had only used a quarter of its weaponry thus far, which analysts have interpreted as a way of keeping Israel on its toes through a policy of strategic ambiguity.

General Hoteit added that it is likely that the missile launched on Thursday is not the most advanced air defence missile they have, as Hezbollah typically reserves some weaponry for strategic surprises.

Recent weeks have seen an intensification of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, with the latter bombing new areas of northern Israel and causing wildfires over the weekend.

The Lebanese group has also managed to use drones and anti-tank missiles to strike Israeli military targets without triggering sirens or the Israeli Iron Dome air defence system. On Thursday, the group released a video of an anti-tank missile hitting an Iron Dome battery, and pictures of the damaged technology later were published.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military said it had launched an investigation into why a Hezbollah drone attack on its military base had failed to activate warning sirens.

Though Israel has said it prefers a diplomatic solution to the ongoing border clashes, pressure is growing on the Israeli government to bring hostilities to a close.

Hezbollah officials have said that they do not want a full-scale war with Israel, but that they are prepared for it.

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