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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

Boston Globe July 18, 2006

Hezbollah arsenal may be substantial

Specialists say missile stockpile is around 10,000

By Bryan Bender

WASHINGTON -- Before the latest bombardment of Israel, Hezbollah stockpiled as many as 10,000 Katyusha rockets in southern Lebanon and acquired hundreds of longer-range weapons from Syria and Iran, enabling the militant group for the first time to mount sustained attacks against Israeli population centers, according to US and foreign intelligence specialists.

Hezbollah's arsenal poses more of a psychological threat than a strategic danger to the Jewish state, weapons analysts say. The relatively crude weapons are notoriously inaccurate but are sowing fear and panic across Israel's northern frontier and sending citizens as far south as Haifa and Tiberias into bomb shelters or fleeing to the central part of the country.

The relentless barrage of hundreds of Hezbollah rockets -- the largest bombardment of Israel to date -- has killed a dozen civilians and wounded more than 300 people, government officials said. Another 12 soldiers have also died in the fighting.

``The most significant change in terms of Iranian support for Hezbollah . . . is that Iran has also given Hezbollah much longer-range rockets that can be fired into major cities like Haifa -- targets that are far more valuable and have far more propaganda value than the settlements and bases near the border -- and Hezbollah has begun to use them," said Anthony Cordesman , a security specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

Air raid sirens sounded throughout the day yesterday in Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, which has been struck by about 20 rockets in recent days, according to local media reports. Meanwhile, a hospital was struck in the ancient biblical city of Safed, wounding five civilians.

Hezbollah has long relied on Iranian-supplied Katyusha rockets, with ranges up to 13 miles, to strike at Israeli border towns and military bases. Many of those attacks have gone unreported by foreign media and Israel has largely tolerated them because they have done relatively little damage.

``It was normally just a few of them, fired into Israel right up at the border, and usually a one-day wonder," John Pike , a military specialist at GlobalSecurity.org, an Arlington, Va., think tank, said of previous Hezbollah attacks. ``The games have just begun. They are widely estimated to have 10,000 of these things and they have only used about 300 of them."

Israeli and other analysts had warned that the threat from Hezbollah's arsenal was growing -- especially since 2000, when Israeli forces pulled out of a buffer zone they occupied in southern Lebanon since 1982.

Since 2000, analysts believe Hezbollah has acquired from Iran the Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets, derivatives of North Korean designs that can hit targets as far away as 45 miles and carry 100 pounds of explosives -- such as the one Israeli officials believe was modified by Syria and struck a train depot in Haifa on Sunday, killing eight and wounding more than 20 others.

Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization has said that new versions of the Fajr-5 -- mounted on a mobile rocket launcher -- are easier to move around and quicker to launch, according to Jane's Information Group, a London-based publisher that compiles global weapons data.

Israeli intelligence officials also believe that other rockets designed by Iran, including the Shahin -1 and Shahin-2, the Oghab , and the Nazeat , can travel up to 50 miles and have also have been supplied to Hezbollah.

The maturing of Hezbollah's capabilities was underscored last week when a radar-guided C-802 ``Silkworm" cruise missile, which can carry hundreds of pounds of explosives , struck an Israeli ship off the Lebanese coast. Many observers have questioned whether Hezbollah could have mounted such a sophisticated attack without direct Iranian assistance.

Many predict the barrage will continue. ``Hezbollah, aware it is going to be hit hard, is in a use-it-or-lose-it scenario, firing what projectiles it can into Israel," said an analysis by Strategic Forecasting, an intelligence firm in Austin, Texas, that monitors developments in the Middle East.

Most of Hezbollah's arsenal is remotely launched from the back of a pickup truck or from makeshift launchers and Israeli antimissile systems, artillery, and attack aircraft have little ability to counter them -- despite having invested hundreds of millions of dollars to develop improved missiles defenses in recent years.

Israel's air and missile defenses, designed to strike larger, more advanced ballistic missiles that travel hundreds of miles, are poorly suited to shoot down the Katyushas and other Hezbollah missiles because they travel such short distances at unpredictable trajectories.

Copyright 2006, The New York Times Company