In the August 9th edition of Jane’s Defense Weekly, Deputy Editor Robin Hughes reveals alleged plans by Iran to supply Hezbollah with “a steady supply of weapons systems,” including Chinese QW-1 and its own Mithaq (or Misagh) man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). The article cites unnamed western diplomats, who also claim that Iran agreed to provide, “at a later date,” several different types of Russian missiles, including the sophisticated SA-16.
Assuming the information is accurate, the missile transfers are significant for several reasons. First, the missiles are a potential threat not only to Israeli military aircraft but also commercial airliners worldwide. Hezbollah has a long history of terrorist attacks against civilian targets. According to Georgetown Professor Daniel Byman, the organization “was perhaps the world’s most active terrorist organization,” and had a hand in several high profile attacks, including the hijacking of TWA flight 847 in 1985 and the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994. Its involvement in such acts has waned in recent years, but there is no guarantee that it won’t resume these activities, or retransfer the missiles to terrorists with immediate designs on commercial airliners.
Secondly, the transfers violate a nascent but critically important international norm against the transfer of MANPADS to non-state actors, which is codified in resolutions, declarations and agreements adopted by members of several multilateral forums. Some of these agreements explicitly ban the transfer of MANPADS to non-state actors, while others do so indirectly by limiting such transfers to “foreign governments or to agents specifically authorised to act on behalf of a government after presentation of an official EUC certified by the Government of the receiving country.”