By David Daoud
Lebanon based terror group Hezbollah has constructed an airstrip in the northern Bekaa Valley for the takeoff and landing of its unmanned aerial vehicles, satellite imagery has revealed.
Reports by IHS Jane’s indicate the airstrip was built in a sparsely populated area slightly south of the northern Lebanese region of Hermel, bordering the Syrian border, sometime between February 27, 2013 and June 19, 2014.
The airstrip itself is very simple. It consists of a single unpaved strip that is 670 meters long and 20 meters wide. Materials for the strip were taken from a nearby quarry to build up its northern end and to level it out.
The short length of the air strip indicates that it is not used to smuggle in weapons from Syria or Iran, since it is too short to be used by nearly all other transport aircraft used by either country’s air force, with the exception of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ An-74T-200 short take-off transports.
According to Jane’s, the most likely explanation is that the runway was “built for Iranian-made UAVs, including the Ababil-3, which has been employed over Syria by forces allied to the Syrian regime, and possibly the newer and larger Shahed-129.” Hezbollah has already confirmed that it is using UAVs to support its operations against opposition forces in Syria, particularly over the strategically-important Qalamoun region on Lebanon’s eastern border.
An antenna, which might be used to extend the range of a local UAV ground control station, is also located close to the strip, along with six small utility buildings, though none are large enough to house an Ababil-3. However, according to Jane’s, “there is a facility constructed in a valley 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) west of the airstrip that includes two utility buildings large enough to house UAVs.”
The site is also guarded by a checkpoint and swing gate, similar to other Hezbollah facilities that are located across Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.