Hezbollah is Rearming for another round with Israel

Colonel David Eshel

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Just over eight months since the Second Lebanon war ended, Hezbollah leaders are already renewing their sabre rattling rhetoric against Israel. Senior political advisor to Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hussein Halil said in an interview to the London based A- Shark al-Awsat, newspaper last Monday, that his group was already sufficiently armed to confront Israeli aggression. Only last week, Hezbollah's deputy secretary Sheikh Naim Kassem hinted to the London based Guardian newspaper that Hezbollah is preparing for the possibility of another "adventure" with Israel by coming summer.

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Both men should know what they are talking about. Since last September, soon after the UN brokered cease fire, Iran has restarted its non-stop weapons deliveries to Hezbollah. In clear defiance of UN resolution 1701, which prohibits arms smuggling from Syria into Lebanon, or for that matter through any other way, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has been busy delivering the latest weapons arsenal from Tehran's military hardware coffers. Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern during his latest visit to Lebanon. Following his Middle East tour briefing, the UN Security Council is considering to form a special investigation team, probing implementation of its resolution on Lebanon. Sources in New York said the secretary-general informed the Security Council that he had obtained evidence from Israel and from "another country" indicating that Syria and Iran were indeed smuggling arms into Lebanon.

Iran began production of teh Misagh 2 Short Range Air Defense System , a locally produced version of teh SA-18 Igla. This weapon is believed to be the cause of several downings of US Army helicopters in Iraq in recent months. Photo: FARS

Officials warned that Hezbollah has regained most of its strength since the last summer with Israel and that the rate of weapons smuggling has nearly doubled over the past few weeks.

According to Israeli intelligence officials, Iran and Syria, who have recently signed a mutual defense pact, have been smuggling mass quantities of high quality weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Officials warned that Hezbollah has regained most of its strength since the last summer with Israel and that the rate of weapons smuggling has nearly doubled over the past few weeks. Those sources disclose that advanced Iranian-Chinese missiles have already been smuggled into Lebanon. Among these are allegedly Iranian Sayyad (U.S. Hawk derivative), Misagh 2 (derivative of the Russian SA-18 Igla) and Shahab Tagheb (Chinese HQ-7 derivative) air defense missiles. These missiles could seriously restrict the Israeli Air Force’s tactical freedom over Lebanon's airspace. Should new confrontation break out, Israeli pilots will have to fly into a high-risk combat zone, in which a relatively modern air defense network will pose considerable danger to them.

Iran has also developed this naval air defense missile called Sagheb, now available in a surface-to-air  version. Photo: ISNAShahab-Tagheb air defense missile is a derivative of the Chinese HQ-7 missileDuring Last summer's air war, the air force operated virtually without opposition from the ground. Although, the Iranian missiles are not of latest state-of-the-art technologies, they nevertheless pose a threat to be reckoned with. To stress this point: Iranian Misagh-2 man-portable infrared guided anti-aircraft missiles were found after a failed attempt to shoot down a plane at Baghdad's airport in 2004. Furthermore, disclosure of the Iranian provision of anti-aircraft missiles came officially from US military sources, as no less than six U.S. helicopters have been shot down by insurgents in the past months alone.

Unconfirmed reports, from sources close to IDF intelligence, indicated that this week, Hezbollah had officially formed its new air defense wing, for which several hundred graduates had just ended their training in Iran, learning how to use air defense missiles in combat. According to these reports, a group of specially selected Hezbollah trainees were flown from Damascus to Tehran early March to start a six week training session held by Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) instructors at the Imam Ali base.

Meanwhile the war of words is already intensifying. Syrian Information Minister Muhsen Bilal warned earlier this week, that armed resistance will be the only way to liberate the Golan Heights. It seems that the Syrian leadership may have misjudged Israel's military performance during the last Lebanon conflict and is therefore more prone to test its own power in restoring the Golan. As for Hezbollah's determination to attempt another round with Israel: Although last August's cease-fire has deployed the Lebanese Army and a reinforced UNIFIL along the international border, it is highly questionable whether these forced will be able to prevent renewed fighting, once one of the belligerents decides to attack. Past experience in this volatile region has demonstrated that neither UNIFIL nor a UN Multinational force could present an effective barrier to a determined force. For example: In June 1967 the UN withdrew from Sinai, following Egyptian President Abdul Nasser's request, which opened the Six Day War. A similar situation happened, when the IDF invaded Lebanon to fight the PLO warlords in June 1982, by rolling right over UNIFIL troops.

According to Israel intelligence reports, Hezbollah has sofar not attempted to rebuild its fortification line along the border. However, intensive construction work is already going on north of the Litani River line, in which Hezbollah is rebuilding its fortifications and new missile sites. Should fighting resume, the IDF will have to confront a powerful enemy, prepared to fight with determination. Moreover, next time, Israel may well confront hostile action on two, if not three fronts, Hezbollah to the North, Syria East of the Golan Heights and a much more powerful Hamas in the Gaza Strip. A major element in preparing Hezbollah and Hamas for war, is the IRGC's "Quds Force".

According to an extensive report by the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the activity of the Quds Force is focused in three main arenas in the Middle East: Lebanon , among Palestinians, and Iraq. At the same time, Iran continues setting up sleeper cells throughout the world which will be activated when Iran feels the time has come, independently and in collaboration with Hezbollah:

The Quds (Jerusalem) Force is one of five branches of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the strongest military-security body in the country and the clerical regime's main support. The Quds Force is an elite unit estimated at several thousand members. Established at the beginning of the Nineties to export the revolution beyond the borders of Iran it became a highly secret Iranian apparatus working clandestine beyond its borders. Since March 1998 the Quds Force has been commanded by Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani.

Lebanon is considered the finest example of Quds Force "success" and is used as the front line in the campaign against Israel . The Force operates in Lebanon through local headquarters nicknamed "the Lebanese corps." Every activity undertaken by the Quds Force in Lebanon is coordinated with the Syrian regime, and Syria serves as the conduit through which weapons are shipped from Iran to Lebanon . The Quds Force gave Hezbollah massive active support during the second Lebanon war (July-August 2006) and was integrated into the organization's command structure. After the war it performed a significant role in rehabilitating Hezbollah's military might, one of whose manifestations was the smuggling of weapons from Iran to Lebanon
The Quds Force plays a central role in the training received by Hezbollah operatives in camps in Iran , using bases and facilities belonging to the Revolutionary Guards. The training is intended to raise the Hezbollah operatives' military level and to teach them to use the modern weapons Iran provides them with. Revolutionary Guards also train Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon , especially at bases and facilities in the Beqa'a Valley/.

Hezbollah operatives undergo various types of training in Iran , from integrated maneuvers to launching anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, including Sagger and TOW missiles. Special attention is given to training Hezbollah operatives in the use of strategic and advanced weapons, such as ground-to-ground rockets with a range of more than 75 km (46.4 miles) and unmanned planes. Revolutionary Guards officers helped Hezbollah launch an Iranian-made unmanned plane into Israel in November 2004.

The two main camps used most often by the Quds Force for the training of foreign terrorist-operatives are the Imam Ali camp in Tehran and the camp at Bahonar near Karaj , north of Tehran. Two Hezbollah guerillas who were captured by the IDF during the second Lebanon war stated during interrogation that they had been trained by Revolutionary Guards operatives at the camp near Karaj . One of these was Hussein Ali Suleima, who was involved in the abducting of the two IDF soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the act which led to the outbreak of the war. Suleima stated that he had been trained in Iran by the IRGC as part of a group of 40-50 Hezbollah operatives from Lebanon. Their passports were not stamped in either Syria or Iran to hide the fact that they had undergone training in Iran.

The Quds Force operates an extensive network that uses the facilities of Iranian embassies or cultural and economic missions or a number of religious institutions such as the Islamic Communications and Culture Organisation to recruit radical Islamists in Muslim countries. Lately, the Quds Force started to encourage Muslim candidates even in western countries. After going through preliminary training and security checks in those countries, the recruits are then sent to Iran via third countries and end up in one of the Quds Force training camps.

A special branch inside Iran’s Foreign Ministry is responsible for assisting the Quds Force in bringing in foreign recruits. The recruits first travel to third countries where they are given new passports by Iranian agents to facilitate their entry into Iran. Upon finishing their training course, the new agents leave Iran for third countries from where they use their genuine passports to return to their countries of origin or where missions are planned.

Last Tuesday, Shin Bet (general security service) officials revealed to the press that Iranian intelligence officers are trying to recruit Israelis seeking entry permits to Iran at their Istanbul consulate. Permit applicants undergo extensive questioning in which Iranian officials test their political stance and other criteria. Over the past two years, officials said, the Iran's security services have made at least 10 attempts to recruit Israeli citizens of Persian descent visiting their relatives in Iran, Shin Bet sources said. By law, Iran is not defined an enemy state and Israeli citizens are permitted to travel there. Since Iran does not allow anyone into the country whose passport bears an Israeli entrance stamp, Israelis who want to travel to Iran must pass through the Iranian Consulate in Turkey, where they are issued special documents that allows them into to Iran, or alternatively - take out an Iranian passport.

Therefore, Israelis, traveling to Iran, wishing to visit relatives, approached the Iranian Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey, asking for permission to visit Iran. Iran is not considered an enemy country according to Israeli law, and therefore it is not illegal for Israelis to visit there. The Shin Bet said two Iranian agents posing as consular staff have been targeting Israelis of Iranian descent as potential spies. Israel intelligence identified the two Iranian agents by their nicknames Zainali and Abdallah.

In Lebanon itself Hezbollah has established at least six major training bases and weapons depots, the majority located in the Bekka valley. Until the Syrian withdrawal these had been under the supervision and protection of the Syrian Army in Lebanon and run by Iranian IRGC instructors and logistical experts. According to intelligence reports (not updated after September 2006) the location of these bases are:

  • Ain Bourday Base (South of Baalbek): training camp for general guerilla warfare.
  • Nabi Sheet Base : training camp for general guerilla warfare.
  • BaaIbek Homs Road Base: train General Guerilla warfare .
  • Wadi Firsan Base (in the Hermel, Bekaa Valley): Main activities taught at this base are guerilla warfare, survival warfare, long range patrols, observations techniques, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapon techniques and so on. Missiles and chemical weaponry smuggled before the war from Iraq to Syria are believed to be buried and hidden around this base.
  • Wadi Al Yammouneh Base: This terrorist Base is located between the Bekaa Valley and the upper mountains of Jbeil. Activities are Guerilla warfare, anti tank and anti aircraft weapons, and other terrorist skills.
  • Nabeh El Assi Base (EL ASSI RIVER) located near Hermel, in the Bekaa Valley

Many of these bases became targets for Israeli air force and special forces attack during the 2006 Second Lebanon War and it is unknown if an how much these bases have been restored, or re-located. According to unconfirmed intelligence reports, Hezbollah has constructed underground storage bases for new weapons received via Syria, in caves and earth bunkers in the mountain region of eastern Lebanon.

Read David Eshel's past commentary here

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