Assorted Drones

Open source information on non-state actors weapon arsenal is difficult to glean due to their lack of transparency. has created broad categories, when necessary, of non-state actors weaponry to provide a general sense of capabilities.

In recent years, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Islamic State have attempted to develop drone programs.


During the summer war with Hamas in 2014, the Gaza-based terrorist group flew a medium-sized UAV into Israeli airspace which was quickly shot down by an Israeli Patriot missile system. In video released by Hamas after the incident, the drone, which Hamas calls the ‘Ababil 1,’ appears to be homemade with four small rockets that are never launched. Israeli defense officials speculate that Hamas possesses more but referred to them as “model airplanes’ implying that they are relatively unsophisticated.

In November 2012, Israel targeted Hamas’ UAV infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Air Force “inflicted severe damage to Hamas’ UAV infrastructure,” the Israel Defense Forces stated.

Press reports suggest that Hamas captured a small number of Israeli drones crashed in Gaza and the group could be trying to reverse-engineer them.


Since 2002, Hezbollah has been in the possession of drones. According to Israeli media reports, Hezbollah has recently taken steps to enhance its UAV arsenal, much of which is believed to be variants of the Iranian Ababil drone.

The exact size of Hezbollah’s drone fleet is unclear. A recent report in the Israeli media suggested Hezbollah had 200. However, in 2009, Israeli officials told their American counterparts that they assessed that Hezbollah had only “several” Ababil drones. And, in 2006, an Israeli expert suggested Hezbollah had no more than 30 Ababil drones.

Over the past decade, Hezbollah has sent drones on a couple of occasions into Israeli airspace. For example, in 2004, Hezbollah sent an Iranian-made drone into Israeli territory. The following year, another Hezbollah drone entered Israeli airspace. And, during the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, a number of Hezbollah drones were eliminated by Israel.

In October 2012, the Israeli Air Force shot down a Hezbollah drone that was flying over the northern Negev. Following the incident, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said, “It is our natural right to send other reconnaissance flights inside occupied Palestine…. This is not the first time and will not be the last. We can reach any place we want.”

Hezbollah may have successfully used an armed drone in August 2016, when footage emerged of what appears to be a small quad-copter dropped grenade-sized munitions on Syrian rebel positions. While fairly crude, the method appears to utilize abundantly available artillery sub-munitions and commercially sold UAVs to conduct lethal attacks.

Islamic State (ISIS)

In August 2014, the Islamic State released a video displaying what appears to be drone surveillance footage from over a Syrian military base in Raqqa governorate. Though the actual drone cannot be seen, it appears to be a small quadcopter which are common on the civilian marketplace. Though the Islamic State has not declared owning more drones, given their  low cost and high availability, it is likely that more small surveillance UAVs are in their possession.

Reports emerged in December 2015, that ISIS was packing small tactical UAVs with explosives to use as improvised suicide drones. It was not until October 2016 that one of these explosive-packed UAVs successfully was used by the terror group, killing two Iraqi Kurdish fighters and wounding two French special operation advisors.

Dawn of the Jihadi Drone Wars

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported February 23 that it had downed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over the Mediterranean after it was launched from the Gaza Strip. According to IDF sources, an Israeli F-16 shot down the UAV, which it said belonged to Hamas, before it was able to cross into the country’s airspace. […]

An Edge in the Desert

Weapons are pouring into the Middle East at an unprecedented rate. The Pentagon recently announced that it would sell six tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft to Israel for $1.3 billion, American hardware (including Apache helicopters) is being rushed to the Iraqi government to help in its battle against al Qaeda, and Washington has also restored military aid to Egypt after a brief hiatus. But Uncle […]