Hizballah Has Missiles for Downing Israeli Warplanes One Year after Lebanon War
DEBKAfile Exclusive Military Report
July 11, 2007, 11:04 PM (GMT+02:00)
The highly mobile Rapier 2 anti-air missile
One year ago to the day, the Lebanese Shiite terrorist Hizballah sent a unit across the border into Israel and ambushed an Israeli patrol, killing eight of its members and kidnapping two. The raid, followed by a Katyusha rocket attack on northern Israel sparked the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and a 34-day war.
Today, DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Hizballah is in better military shape than ever before. its sponsors, Iran and Syria, have not only replenished the rocket stocks depleted by daily barrages against Israeli towns and villages, but topped them up by 50%. Whereas Hizballah started the 2006 war with 12,000 rockets of different types, today the Lebanese Shiite terror group has accumulated 18,000 in its arsenal.
Drawing lessons of that war, Hizballah has doubled the number of teams trained to launch rockets and given them a fleet of all-terrain vehicles and motorbikes for speedy movement between firing locations.
Hizballah’s long-range rocket force, designated “Planning Unit,” is stationed in northern Lebanon in the Hermel district. Most of the new rocket supplies, including hundreds of Zilzal-2, Zilzal-3, and Fatah-110, which has a range of 250 km (reaching Tel Aviv and points south), are stored in large emergency depots on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon to keep them out of sight of UN peacekeepers and out of the way of the Israeli Air Force in a flare-up of hostilities.
Hizballah plans to delay hauling the rockets into Lebanon until the last moment before they are fired.
Hizballah’s short-range rocket unit, designated the “Nasr Unit”, is stationed in the Tyre region of the South and its command center in the village of Maarub. They are positioned for striking the northern Israeli towns of Haifa, Kiryat Shemona, Tiberias, Safed, Acre and Nahariya.
To stay out of sight of UN peacekeepers policing in the South, this brigade keeps a low profile, reactivating only very few of the bunkers which served them in the war. the bulk have been cleared out, restocked with ammunition and combat rations, prepared for military use and kept closed.
This enables the Lebanese government and, less willingly, the Israel high command, to maintain that a lot has changed for the better since the war and Hizballah is no longer deployed right up to the border but at a distance.
This is only a half-truth. The fact is that the Shiite terrorists are back in the South, albeit well hidden in the Shiite villages. Consequently, Israeli policy-makers can continue to spin illusions, like those the Olmert government fed the public and the media before the last war.
Hizballah has tripled its shore-to-sea C-802 missiles, one of which crippled an Israeli missile ship in July, 2006. With 25-30 of these weapons, the Shiite militia is capable of menacing any of the warships cruising Mediterranean waters opposite the Lebanese coast, be they Israeli missile boats, the American Sixth Fleet or the European flotilla attached to UNIFIL.
Several dozen more are concealed across the Syrian border, ready for transfer at short notice.
Hidden there too is double the number of anti-tank missiles in service with the Hizballah in 2006, of types which caused heavy damage and casualties to Israeli tank crews. Syria has upgraded this stock with a large supply of “Third Generation” missiles bought in Russia with Iranian funding.
Another major difference between then and now is that Hizballah has established its first air defense unit armed with ground-to-air shoulder-borne Strela-7 missiles and the mobile Rapier 2s.
Last year, Hizballah fielded 1,600 well-trained commandos, the backbone of its fighting force, and lost 750 in combat with the Israeli army. Since then, 1,200 fresh fighters have been recruited and are undergoing commando training at a special facility near Tehran.
Each course of three to four months has an intake of 300 to 400 Hizballah recruits. The third course went into training in July. By the end of the year, Hizballah will have some 2,000 elite troops, 400-500 more than its number at the outset of the last war.
Hizballah’s secretary-general, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, presents a charismatic, powerful image. However, since the war, Iran and the movement’s leadership have reduced his mandate to internal Lebanese politics in opposition to prime minister Fouad Siniora and the rest of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian political bloc, headed by Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt.
The militia’s present war chief, special operations planner and liaison with Iran, Syria and al Qaeda, is the veteran Hizballah super-terrorist and kidnapper, Imad Mughniyeh.
Serving under him as chief of staff is Ibrahim Aqil.
Number 3 in the movement’s military hierarchy is Hajj Khalil Harb, commander of Unit No. 1800, which kidnapped the Israeli soldiers Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in its cross-border raid of July 12, 2006, and is responsible for special operations in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Iraq.
Members of this elite unit are deployed in the Gaza Strip in support of Hamas.
In Iraq, they cooperate with Sunni and Shiite terrorists fighting US troops.
Unit No. 1800 has a permanent complement of 5,000 trained men and a partially-trained reserve force of 9,000 on standby.
The militia’s fighting manpower, including its special intelligence and security agencies, totals between 15,000 and 16,000.