Lebanese Shi’a militant group Hezbollah has built an airstrip to operate its fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Bekaa Valley in north-east of the country, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly has claimed.
After analysing satellite imagery published on Google Earth, the magazine reported that the airstrip is located in a remote and sparsely populated area 10km south of the town of Hermel and 18km west of the Syrian border.
The runway is believed to have been constructed between 27 February 2013 and 19 June 2014 over a shorter strip that had been in existence since 2010. It comprises a single 670m x 20m unpaved strip that could be used for launching Iranian-built Ababil-3 and possibly the Shahed-129 UAVs.
With an antenna located few metres away and linked by a track, the heavily guarded strip resembles a standard Lebanese mobile telephone tower, and has six small utility buildings in its vicinity, none capable of housing a UAV the size of an Ababil-3.
However, there is a facility located 2.5km west of the airstrip that includes two utility buildings large enough to accommodate UAVs.
Hezbollah sources have confirmed to the publication that the group is using UAVs to support operations against rebel forces in Syria, especially over the mountainous Qalamoun region on eastern border of Lebanon.
Meanwhile, a Hezbollah MP denied the claims that the organisation possesses a runway in north-east Lebanon.
Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc member Walid Sukkarieh was quoted by Al-Jumhouriya as saying: "The location mentioned by the magazine, which is 10km south of Hermel and 18km west of the Lebanese-Syrian border, contains my own village, al-Fakiha.
"If there was an airstrip or works to build one, all the residents of the Baalbek valley would have seen it with their own eyes."
According to IHS Jane’s, Hezbollah has flown UAVs from Lebanese airspace since at least November 2004.