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Daily News July 19, 2006

Iran called source of missile that struck ship

By James Gordon Meek

WASHINGTON - The low-flying missile that crippled an Israeli warship last week was a sophisticated Iranian weapon no one expected to find in Hezbollah's arsenal, sources said yesterday.

"There was no prior warning," said defense analyst John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org. "It was completely outside of what you would expect from Hezbollah."

The shore-to-ship missile was the latest surprise Hezbollah has sprung on Israel and is an indication of how much it has built up its arsenal - likely with Iran's help - during the six years of relative quiet with Israel.

Hezbollah rockets have had farther reach, better aim and pack a bigger wallop than in years past.

The Israeli missile boat Hanit was struck on Friday by an Iranian C-802 Noor missile that killed four sailors after exploding in the rear of the vessel.

The missile may have been part of a shipment of Chinese-made missiles Iran bought in the 1990s before Washington halted the sale. Or it may be from a batch of missiles Iran made with North Korea, a U.S. intelligence source told the Daily News.

The high-tech, anti-ship missile is tough to shoot down, partly because it flies only 20 feet above the water, making it hard to spot by radar. The C-802 has a 98% success rate because defensive systems aboard most modern warships have trouble hitting anything that small, according to GlobalSecurity.org.

Israeli security sources said the Hanit crew was so clueless about the threat it faced that it didn't even activate all its defenses.

"We were not aware that Hezbollah possessed this kind of missile," Israeli naval operations chief Rear Adm. Noam Faig told Jane's Defense Weekly.

Intelligence officials are deeply suspicious that Iranian Revolutionary Guards "had their finger on the trigger" of the missiles that hit the Hanit and also sank a Cambodian merchant ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

"There is also the possibility they trained up their [Hezbollah] friends," a U.S. official said.

Israeli sources said Iran has also helped Hezbollah build a network of hardened bunkers and connecting tunnels to protect its missile stockpiles.

With Michele Green in Israel


Copyright 2006, Daily News, L.P.