Hezbollah’s Missiles and Rockets

CSIS Briefs

The Issue

  • Hezbollah is the world’s most heavily armed non-state actor, with a large and diverse stockpile of unguided artillery rockets, as well as ballistic, antiair, antitank, and antiship missiles.
  • Hezbollah views its rocket and missile arsenal as its primary deterrent against Israeli military action, while also useful for quick retaliatory strikes and longer military engagements.
  • Hezbollah’s unguided rocket arsenal has increased significantly since the 2006 Lebanon War, and the party’s increased role in the Syrian conflict raises concerns about its acquisition of more sophisticated standoff and precision-guided missiles, whether from Syria, Iran, or Russia.
  • This brief provides a summary of the acquisition history, capabilities, and use of these forces.

Hezbollah is a Lebanese political party and militant group with close ties to Iran and Syria’s Assad regime. It is the world’s most heavily armed non-state actor—aptly described as “a militia trained like an army and equipped like a state.”1 This is especially true with regard to its missile and rocket forces, which Hezbollah has arrayed against Israel in vast quantities.

The party’s arsenal is comprised primarily of small, man-portable, unguided artillery rockets. Although these devices lack precision, their sheer number make them effective weapons of terror. According to Israeli sources, Hezbollah held around 15,000 rockets and missiles on the eve of the 2006 Lebanon War, firing nearly 4,000 at Israel over the 34-day conflict. Hezbollah has since expanded its rocket force, today estimated at 130,000 rounds.2

Hezbollah asserts that its rocket forces are primarily for deterrence—a means to retaliate against Israel in the event of conflict. In May 2006, Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah explained “The purpose of our rockets is to deter Israel from attacking Lebanese civilians…The enemy fears that every time he confronts us, whenever there are victims in our ranks among Lebanese civilians, this will lead to a counter-barrage of our rockets, which he fears.”3 Indiscriminate rocket fire, particularly from small, easily transportable launchers makes the suppression of fire with airpower more challenging. This forces Israel to rely more heavily on ground forces in a conflict. Lacking any air force of its own, Hezbollah prefers ground wars in its own territory to bombardment from the skies. As Human Rights Watch notes, however, none of these arguments justifies targeting civilians under international law.4

The continued growth of Hezbollah’s missile and rocket forces is undesirable for several reasons. It may, for example, embolden the party to overstep Israeli red lines. Hezbollah’s push to acquire longer-ranged and precision-guided munitions could likewise spur Israel into preemptive action.

Hezbollah’s weapons acquisition also raises the prospects for the proliferation of missile technology and know-how. According to Saudi and UAE officials, Hezbollah militants have worked with their Houthi forces in rocket development and launch divisions in Yemen.5 Hezbollah forces in Syria and Iraq similarly operate with various Shiite militias. Growing relations among these groups presents risks for the dissemination of missile technology and knowledge.

The following is a summary compilation of Hezbollah’s missile and rocket arsenal. It is limited by the availability of public source information and does not cover certain topics such as rocket strategies, evolution, or storage locations. This brief instead focuses on the acquisition history, capabilities, and use of these forces.

Read More at MissileThreat.csis.org

 


[1] Steven Erlanger and Richard A. Oppel Jr., “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons,” The New York Times, August 7, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/07/world/middleeast/07hezbollah.html.

[2] Center for Preventive Action, “Israel and Hezbollah: Deterrence and the Threat of Miscalculation,” Council on Foreign Relations, September 11, 2017, https://www.cfr.org/report/israel-and-hezbollah-deterrence-and-threat-miscalculation; International Crisis Group, “Israel, Hizbollah and Iran: Preventing Another War in Syria,” February 8, 2018, https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/eastern-mediterranean/syria/182-israel-hizbollah-and-iran-preventing-another-war-syria.

[3] Udi Dekel et al., “The Quiet Decade: In the Aftermath of the Second Lebanon War, 2006-2016,” Institute for National Security Studies, July 2017, 120, http://www.inss.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/memo167_6.pdf.

[4] Eric Goldstein and Bonnie Docherty, “Civilians under Assault: Hezbollah’s Rocket Attacks on Israel in the 2006 War,” Human Rights Watch, August 28, 2007, https://www.hrw.org/report/2007/08/28/civilians-under-assault/hezbollahs-rocket-attacks-israel-2006-war.

[5] Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam, “Lebanon’s Hezbollah denies sending weapons to Yemen,” Reuters, November 20, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-nasrallah/lebanons-hezbollah-denies-sending-weapons-to-yemen-idUSKBN1DK22D.

Shaan Shaikh is a program coordination and research assistant at the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Ian Williams is an associate fellow and associate director at the CSIS Missile Defense Project.

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Shaan Shaikh
Deputy Director and Fellow, Missile Defense Project
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Ian Williams

Ian Williams

Former Fellow, International Security Program and Deputy Director, Missile Defense Project