Wall Street Journal reports, that components of a powerful anti-ship missile system have already been smuggled into Lebanon ‘piece by piece’.
The Shiite terrorists’ smuggling techniques are “pretty damn good,” reports a senior U.S. official, “and they are patient.”
By Israel Hayom Staff
U.S. officials believe that Hezbollah is smuggling advanced guided-missile systems into Lebanon from Syria piece by piece to evade detection and interception by Israel and its air force, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
Joint interests. Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – Photo: AP
Some components of the powerful Russian-made anti-ship 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, current and former U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.
Such guided weapons would be a major step up from the “dumb” rockets and missiles Hezbollah currently has at its disposal, and could sharply increase the group’s ability to deter Israel in any potential new battle, officials said.
Hezbollah’s smuggling activities appear to serve two purposes.
First, Iran wants to upgrade Hezbollah’s arsenal to deter future Israeli strikes against either Lebanon or Iran’s nuclear program, U.S. and Israeli officials told The Wall Street Journal. These officials also said they believed the transfers were meant to force Hezbollah to commit to protecting Syrian President Bashar Assad.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, U.S. and Israeli officials say previous air strikes, which according to foreign reports were attributed to Israel, have stopped shipments of Russian-made ground-to-air SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles and ground-to-ground Fateh-110 rockets to Hezbollah sites inside Lebanon. However, as many as 12 anti-ship systems may now be in Hezbollah’s possession inside Syria, according to U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence. Israel reportedly targeted those Russian-made systems in July and again in October with mixed results, according to U.S. damage assessments.
The U.S., The Wall Street Journal reported, 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 required parts. “To make it lethal, a system needs to be complete,” a senior defense official told The Wall Street Journal.
Current and former U.S. officials have told The Wall Street Journal that Iran’s elite Quds Force has been directly overseeing the shipments to Hezbollah warehouses in Syria. These officials say some of the guided missiles would allow Hezbollah to defend its strongholds in Lebanon, including Beirut, and attack Israeli jets and targets on the ground from territory in Syria controlled by Assad.
Since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Israel has reportedly ramped up an surveillance network tracking Hezbollah, Iranian and Syrian regime figures to detect arms shipments, officials told The Wall Street Journal.
Israeli officials said that in late 2012 Iran upgraded Hezbollah’s arsenal with advanced guided-missile systems. From Tehran’s perspective, Hezbollah’s rockets are their first line of defense against an Israeli strike.
Current and former U.S. officials said the Assad regime also saw the weapons transfers as a way to solidify its relationship with Hezbollah, whose fighters it relies on to stay in power.
Senior Israeli Air Force generals, according to The Wall Street Journal, pushed for action to block the transfers, Israelis familiar with the security deliberations said.
To take out these systems without crossing into Syrian airspace, commanders directed Israeli pilots to perform what is known as a “lofting” maneuver designed to extend how far their bombs can travel, U.S. officials briefed on the operations told The Wall Street Journal.
The pilots, with a burst of speed and altitude, reportedly fling their GPS-guided bombs from ejector racks in a sweeping arc into Syria. In each case, the targets would have to be stationary, the officials said.
The first alleged strike, on Jan. 30, targeted a shipment of Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, U.S. officials said.
In early May, Israel reportedly tracked a plane they believed was carrying advanced Fateh-110 rockets from Iran to the Damascus International Airport, according to the U.S. officials briefed on the operations. Israel hit the shipment on May 2 from Lebanese air space, the U.S. officials said.
According to The Wall Street Journal, that same month Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies began to track the anti-ship systems, whose Yakhont missiles can target warships with precision over the horizon.
On July 5, Israel allegedly targeted some of the Yakhonts at a Syrian base near the coastal city of Latakia. Afterward, The Wall Street Journal reports, Israeli and U.S. spy satellites saw something unexpected: Syrian ground forces destroyed military equipment at the bombing site to try to trick Israel into believing it had successfully taken out the launchers, officials briefed on the intelligence say.
A U.S. damage assessment concluded that the Yakhont missiles and launchers appeared to have been moved out of the line of fire. On Oct. 30 Israel targeted them again, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.
Israeli officials have reportedly told U.S. counterparts that the strikes damaged some Yakhont components, while others remained in warehouses in Syria.
“We don’t think they have all the components in Lebanon to have a complete system,” a senior U.S. defense official told The Wall Street Journal.
U.S. officials, however, said they don’t know the fate of all of the systems and are concerned Hezbollah will smuggle more components into Lebanon. U.S. defense officials also said they believe Hezbollah has tried to throw off Israel’s high-tech hunt by switching on and off communications and power networks along the border.
“Hezbollah is pretty damn good,” a senior U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal. “And they are patient.”
View original Israel Hayom publication at: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=14503