If Hezbollah obtains the Abu Mahdi anti-ship cruise missile from Iran, it could threaten a NATO naval facility in Crete and gas rigs in the Eastern Mediterranean.
A Hezbollah video circulating online purports to show that the terrorist group has some new munitions in its always expanding arsenal. Over the years, Hezbollah has stockpiled more than 100,000 missiles and rockets. However, the real danger of these weapons is that some have been upgraded or use new technology that enables them to be precision-guided munitions, or maneuvering munitions, drones and cruise missiles.
A recent video posted online purports to show a glimpse of an "Abu Mahdi anti-ship cruise missile." According to the Twitter account that found this image, "The new Hezbollah video shows a glance of what is likely an Abu-Mahdi anti-ship cruise missile launcher. That means Iran has armed Hezbollah with her longest range (reportedly 1,000 km.)."
This range would mean it could reach deep into the Eastern Mediterranean, which would threaten a NATO naval support facility at Souda Bay in Crete. This means it is a strategic weapon that potential threatens far more of an area than Israel if there is a conflict.
"It is important because if it turns out to be the Abu Mahdi cruise missile has a range of roughly 1,000 km. – so it could threaten gas rigs in the region, not only [off] Israel, so it is important – it is the first time we have a glimpse into this system in the hands of Hezbollah," according to Tal Inbar, a senior research fellow at the US-based Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
The apparent unveiling of this threat comes as Hezbollah has criticized the US for backing a maritime boundary agreement between Israel and Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has slammed US official Amos Hochstein, a key White House adviser who focuses on global energy security. While Hezbollah said Lebanon doesn't need any more "Steins," a reference to Hochstein being Jewish, recent reports have painted him as playing a key role.
This matters because as Hezbollah takes more control of Lebanon, it is not afraid to brandish its weapons and threaten the US and Israel. Lebanon may be having elections this week, but Hezbollah is focused elsewhere.
The missile was unveiled in August 2020. In April 2021, when some mentions were made of the Abu Mahdi cruise missile, Iran Press News Agency reported: "The latest missile unveiled in this field is the 'Abu Mahdi' anti-ship cruise missile, which is named after the great martyr Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and is an important step in Iran's naval offensive capability. With the development and construction of this long-range anti-ship cruise missile, Iran has entered a special and strategic club in the world."
"The important thing about this defense achievement is that to date, only three countries, the United States, Russia, and China, have anti-ship cruise missiles with a range of over 1,000 km., and Iran has become the fourth country in the world to attain such a missile," the report said.
Details about whether Hezbollah actually has this weapon or merely showed a launch canister in the video are important. However, even if Hezbollah does not have the weapon, it shows an intention to claim it has weapons like this.
This means Hezbollah wants to claim it will take any future conflict out to sea, and it has long bragged of wanting to roll out new anti-ship missiles. Hezbollah's anti-ship missiles have proven to be dangerous in the past. In 2006, it used a C-802 anti-ship missile to target Israel's navy. Hezbollah has claimed new anti-ship missiles in 2017 and 2019.
Hezbollah's rejection of US mediation about the border issue is linked to this. If it can roll out the anti-ship cruise missile, new threats at sea will emerge.
Seth Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.