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Friday, January 03, 2014

Hezbullah upgrading missile capabilities in Lebanon by transfers from Syria

The Wall Street Journal reports that Hezbullah is continuing to upgrade its missile capabilities in Lebanon by transferring sophisticated new missiles from Syria.
Some components of a powerful antiship missile system have already been moved to Lebanon, according to previously undisclosed intelligence, while other systems that could target Israeli aircraft, ships and bases are being stored in expanded weapons depots under Hezbollah control in Syria, say current and former U.S. officials.

Such guided weapons would be a major step up from the "dumb" rockets and missiles Hezbollah now has stockpiled, and could sharply increase the group's ability to deter Israel in any potential new battle, officials say.

The movements appear to serve two purposes.

Iran wants to upgrade Hezbollah's arsenal to deter future Israeli strikes—either on Lebanon or on Iran's nuclear program, U.S. and Israeli officials say. In addition, these officials said they believe the transfers were meant to induce Hezbollah to commit to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as supply lines used by both his regime and Hezbollah.

Israel struck inside Syria at least five times in 2013, seeking to take out systems bound for Hezbollah without provoking a direct confrontation.

U.S. and Israeli officials say the airstrikes have stopped shipments of ground-to-air SA-17 antiaircraft weapons and ground-to-ground Fateh-110 rockets to Hezbollah locations in Lebanon. Some originated from Iran, others from Syria itself.

Nonetheless, as many as 12 antiship guided-missile systems may now be in Hezbollah's possession inside Syria, according to U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence. Israel targeted those Russian-made systems in July and again in October with mixed results, according to U.S. damage assessments.

The U.S. believes Hezbollah has smuggled at least some components from those systems into Lebanon within the past year, including supersonic Yakhont rockets, but that it doesn't yet have all the parts needed there. "To make it lethal, a system needs to be complete," said a senior defense official.
Israeli security analyst Ronen Bergman told the New York Times that Hezbullah has also been transferring SCUD-D missiles that are capable of striking deep into Israel.
Hezbollah, which is also Lebanon’s strongest political party, has a network of bases that were built inside Syria, near the border with Lebanon, to give the group strategic depth and to store the missiles, Mr. Bergman said. But with a nearly three-year insurgency threatening President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, an ally of Hezbollah, keeping the missiles in Syria is no longer as secure, Mr. Bergman said.
The missiles being moved, he said, include Scud D’s, shorter-range Scud C’s, medium-range Fateh rockets that were made in Iran, Fajr rockets and antiaircraft weapons that are fired from the shoulder.
Some of you may recall that the United States expected (and urged) Israel to attack Syria in 2006. Of course, we didn't. That turns out to be an even bigger mistake than we first thought.
Mr. Bergman said that on the first day of the war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006, the chief of the intelligence agency Mossad at the time, Meir Dagan, advised the government not to start an attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon without first hitting the militia’s bases in Syria, which were built on the strategy that Israel would not dare to strike Syria. The bases were believed to contain much of Hezbollah’s long-range missile capability, Mr. Bergman said.
Mr. Bergman’s account corroborated one given by a Syrian military officer in December 2012, at a time when rebels seemed to have momentum in their advances on Damascus.
The officer, who spoke over Skype from Damascus, said he no longer supported the government and wanted to defect but was waiting for the right moment, in the meantime acting as an informant for the rebels. He said government forces were dismantling strategic weapons and sending them to two locations “for safekeeping”: the coastal province of Tartus that the government holds and south Lebanon, where Hezbollah holds sway.
The weapons, he said, were being sent in tractor-trailers with special coolers. The officer said his information came from another officer who was loyal to the government and with whom he had close relations, and from his own limited observations of the trucks being used to move the weapons.
I wonder why we haven't heard any stories about the IDF sabotaging these weapons. Maybe they're hoping the Syrian rebels will do it for them. 

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