Yesterday, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah claimed Israel was behind the 2005 bombing that killed Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Al Hariri. Part of the evidence for that claim, produced by Nasrallah for reporters, were still photos and video feed taken in 1997 from Israeli aerial drones hovering above Hariri’s home. While that might not be sufficient evidence to implicate Israel, it does show that Hezbollah was able to intercept Israeli drone feeds as far back as 1996.
Nasrallah said intercepts from Israeli UAV’s helped Hezbollah fighters ambush and kill 16 12 Israeli commandos on a mission in southern Lebanon in 1997. He said following that ambush, all Israeli drone feeds were encrypted; so it’s unknown whether Hezbollah is still able to hack the transmissions.
Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iraqi insurgent groups had intercepted U.S. drone transmissions using commercially available software via an unsecured communications link. Interestingly, the U.S. military discovered the vulnerability when they captured a Shiite militant whose laptop contained hours of intercepted video. Military and intelligence officials have said that Hezbollah agents provided bomb-making and other guerrilla know-how to Shiite insurgent groups in Iraq.
Hezbollah is considered the hybrid threat archetype: a non-state group armed with weapons and technology that has heretofore been the exclusive preserve of advanced militaries. During the war in south Lebanon in 2006, Hezbollah was able to listen into Israeli troop communications; although these were largely intercepts of cell phone conversations rather than hacking into encrypted radio communications.
Updated: This story on the Ynet news site provides more information on Nasrallah’s claims about Hezbollah’s 1997 ambush of Israeli commandos. The incident, known as the “Shayetet catastrophe,” resulted in the deaths of 12 commandos when Israeli troops walked into an ambush prepared with an assist from intercepted Israeli drone footage.
“We succeeded in analyzing these pictures, and assumed Israel was planning on operating there,” Nasrallah said. “Our men waited there for a few weeks, and on one of the nights the commando soldiers walked into the ambush we prepared.”
– Greg Grant