Archive for the ‘Hezbollah missiles’ category

Hizballah’s Firm Grip Over Lebanon Fuels Region’s Sectarian Strife

November 15, 2017

Hizballah’s Firm Grip Over Lebanon Fuels Region’s Sectarian Strife, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin,November 14, 2017

Chief Iranian proxy Hizballah has a firm grip over Lebanon, and its bloody intervention in Syria was instrumental in preserving the brutal Assad regime. Yet Hizballah’s meddling in other regions of the Middle East usually does not receive as much attention.

That changed drastically earlier this month, when Saudi Arabia publicly accused the Shi’ite terrorist organization of firing a ballistic missile at its capital, Riyadh, from Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is alarmed at the rapid expansion of Iran and its proxies. It is leading a coalition of Sunni states in a war against the Iranian-supported Shi’ite Houthi radical organization, Ansar Allah, which has taken over parts of Yemen.

“It was an Iranian missile, launched by Hizballah from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen,” charged Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. A Saudi air defense battery shot the missile down before it struck Riyadh’s airport, but the incident has seen Saudi- Iranian tensions, which were already high, spike.

A United States Air Force source has reportedly confirmed the Saudi information about the Iranian origins of the missile.

Iran denied the Saudi accusation, and played down its links with the Houthis. But this denial flies in the face of mounting evidence of an important Hizballah and Iranian role in assisting Ansar Allah in Yemen.

Some of this evidence comes from Hizballah itself, or more precisely, its unofficial mouthpiece in Lebanon, the Al-Akhbar newspaper. Editor Ibrahim Al-Amin published a boastful article in July 2017 detailing Hizballah’s spread across the region.

“In Yemen, Hizbullah has become a direct partner in strengthening the military capabilities of the Houthi Ansar Allah, who consider Hizballah to be their truthful ally,” Al-Amin wrote.

The same article proudly said that in Iraq, Hizballah’s “experts are present in the biggest operations rooms … [Hassan] Nasrallah serves as the commander of the Popular Mobilization Units [the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias] in Iraq.”

Hizballah’s activities around the Middle East have become a controversial topic in Lebanon, where a portion of the population opposes its monopoly on political and military power, its militant ideology, and Iran’s proxy control of the country.

Last year, Future TV, a station owned by the recently retired Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (who quit in protest of Iran’s takeover of Lebanon), broadcast what it said was a video of a Hizballah operative providing military-terrorist training to Houthi fighters.

“So I have (for example) the assassination, God willing, of the head of the Saudi Border Guard,” the Hizballah operative says in the video. “We take a group, a special unit, it goes in, assassinates, kills and plants a large bomb. This is what we call a special operation. I have a special operation in Riyadh”.

At this stage in the video, the Hizballah member briefing the Houthis is interrupted with a question: “[Is this] a suicide operation?”

He replies: “Possibly a martyrdom operation. We do not call it suicide. We call it a special operation.”

An examination of the flag used by Ansar Allah finds that its red and green colors are influenced by the Iranian flag, and more importantly, the motto etched on the flag: “Death to America, Death to Israel, A Curse Upon The Jews, Victory to Islam” is inspired by official Iranian mottos.

The Houthis have been influenced by Hizballah in more than one way, said Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel.

“The group’s use of militant anashid (jihadist anthems) in its videos further portrays it as more in line with Hizballah’s models of ‘resistance,'” he told the IPT. “Images depicting Houthi fighters with the sun as a background further draw a parallel to other Shi’ite jihadist groups, giving the Houthis spiritual legitimacy within the context of a Shi’ite jihadist organization.”

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the current Houthi leader, delivers speeches in a style inspired by Hizballah’s Nasrallah, Karmon said.

Houthi leaders also appointed a prominent Iranian-educated religious figure with close links to the Islamic Republic as the top Islamic authority in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.

A May 2015 Financial Times report, “Lebanon’s Hizballah and Yemen’s Houthis open up on links,” cited Hizballah members saying they have “played a more active role on the ground in Yemen. A Houthi official in Beirut said relations with the Lebanese movement span over a decade, while a Hizballah commander said Houthis and Hizballah trained together for the past 10 years in Iran, then in Lebanon and in Yemen.”

The report added that Hizballah helped create the Houthi Al-Masira television channel, which is based in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a district under Hizballah control.

Earlier this year, Karmon assessed that “[a] physical Iranian presence based on a strategic cooperation with the Houthis, both ground and naval,” in Yemeni ports on the Red Sea, as well as control over other strategic waterways “represent a direct threat to Israel’s security and interests.”The Houthi takeover of Yemen’s capital and other regions increased Shi’ite Iran’s influence there, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reported.

Based on publicly available information, it seems safe to conclude that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps uses Hizballah to strengthen the Houthis militarily in Yemen, and to help Iran increase its influence over this poor, war-torn state, which is also experiencing a humanitarian disaster on a grand scale due to the ongoing conflict.

Hizballah’s role as a regional proliferator of terrorism, radicalism, and high-level operational capabilities is a constant threat to the Middle East and beyond.

Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the Israel correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.

Lebanese Columnist Warns: Any Hizbullah Aggression Against Israel Will Be Disastrous For Lebanon More Than Anyone Else

April 3, 2017

Lebanese Columnist Warns: Any Hizbullah Aggression Against Israel Will Be Disastrous For Lebanon More Than Anyone Else, MEMRI, April 3, 2017

In an article titled “Does Hizbullah Threaten Israel or Us” in the  English-language Saudi daily Arab News, Lebanese columnist Diana Moukalled commented on the recent escalation in Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s threats against Israel, including his threat to target Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.[1] She assessed that this escalation in Nasrallah’s rhetoric is an attempt to make up for Hizbullah’s military losses in Syria and to garner popular support in light of the decline in Hizbullah’s and Iran’s global standing. She also noted that his threat to target the reactor is irresponsible because thousands of Palestinian and Israeli civilians live near it. Noting that Iran often uses Lebanon as an arena for its “adventures,” she warned that the current political climate might prompt Iran and Hizbullah to renew their aggression against Israel – which would be catastrophic for Lebanon, even more so than in previous confrontations.

The following are excerpts from her article:[2]

Diana Moukalled (image: twitter.com/dianamoukalled)

“Israel has reacted to recent statements by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah with a mixture of mockery and cynicism, as he said Hezbollah was ready to bomb the Dimona nuclear reactor or ammonia tanks. Israeli websites reported military discussions indicating that Israel believes Hezbollah is facing a dilemma over aid and funds due to the fighting in Syria.

“In the past, Israel dealt more seriously and carefully with Hezbollah threats and movements, but this has seemingly changed. I am in no way praising Israel, an occupying racist state, or minimizing its danger as an aggressor. Rather, this is an attempt to understand the whirlwind of rhetoric recently launched by Nasrallah, which affects Lebanese, Palestinians and others living mere kilometers from the Dimona reactor.

“Everyone, primarily Hezbollah, knows that the results of any war or military action against Israel will be catastrophic. Nasrallah may have learned this lesson, since the southern front with Israel has been calm since the end of the last war 11 years ago.

“As such, escalating rhetoric to target nuclear reactors — near to which thousands of Palestinian and Israeli civilians live, and would be harmed by substantial radioactive fallout — is at the very least irresponsible and no more than a popular mobilization attempt.

“But these empty slogans seem more necessary today than ever, as Nasrallah’s words seem to be an attempt to rebuild a combat position against Israel and make up for Hezbollah’s losses in Syria. This approach seems logical given the view that rapid political developments and the international consensus around Syria will lead to Hezbollah’s exit from the country. This would result in an Iranian response wherever it can do so.

“In a realistic characterization of current politics, now is not the time to make decisions, but to make a show of force and assemble cards to be presented while waiting for a clearer understanding of US regional policy. Continued escalation against Iran and its influence in Syria may lead to Tehran and Hezbollah reverting to a policy of confrontation, including against Israel. Where better than Lebanon as a gateway for new Iranian adventures?

“But the situation is not as it was during the 2006 war, as Israel says its response will be massive against Hezbollah and Lebanon if Hezbollah takes military action against it. This threat includes Israel’s preparedness to target all Lebanese territory. Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s comments that Hezbollah’s weapons complement the role of the army serve as a pretext for Israel to target the army as well.

“The appropriate conditions to target Hezbollah will come soon, but Israel is in no rush for military action as it is monitoring Hezbollah’s financial, moral and military depletion in Syria, amid Arab hostility toward Hezbollah, compared with support in 2006, due to its regional role at Iran’s behest. Any threat posed by Hezbollah will affect Lebanese before anyone else, and more severely than in previous wars and crises.”

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[1] In a February 16, 2017 address aired on Al-Mayadeen TV, Nasrallah called on Israel “not just to move the ammonia facility out of Haifa, but to dismantle the nuclear plant in Dimona,” saying: “They know what will become of them and of their [Zionist] entity if missiles hit that plant.” See MEMRI TV Clip No. 5896, “Hizbullah Secretary-General Nasrallah Threatens Missile Attack on Israeli Ammonia Facilities and Dimona Nuclear Plant,” February 16, 2017.

[2] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), February 26, 2017.

World Shrugs as Hizballah Prepares Massive Civilian Deaths

March 21, 2017

World Shrugs as Hizballah Prepares Massive Civilian Deaths, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Noah Beck, March 21, 2017

Like the terror group Hamas, Hizballah knows that civilian deaths at the hands of Israel are a strategic asset, because they produce diplomatic pressure to limit Israel’s military response. Hizballah reportedly went so far as offering reduced-price housing to Shiite families who allowed the terrorist group to store rocket launchers in their homes.

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Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently warned Israel that his Iran-backed terror group could attack targets producing mass Israeli casualties, including a huge ammonia storage tank in Haifa, and a nuclear reactor in Dimona.

Also last month, Tower Magazine reported that, since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Iran provided Hizballah with a vast supply of “game-changing,” state-of-the art weapons, despite Israel’s occasional airstrikes against weapons convoys.

In a future conflict, Hizballah has the capacity to fire 1,500 rockets into Israel each day, overwhelming Israel’s missile defense systems. Should such a scenario materialize, Israel will be forced to respond with unprecedented firepower to defend its own civilians.

Hizballah’s advanced weapons and the systems needed to launch them reportedly are embedded across a staggering 10,000 locations in the heart of more than 200 civilian towns and villages. The Israeli military has openly warned about this Hizballah war crime and the grave threats it poses to both sides, but that alarm generated almost no attention from the global media, the United Nations, or other international institutions.

Like the terror group Hamas, Hizballah knows that civilian deaths at the hands of Israel are a strategic asset, because they produce diplomatic pressure to limit Israel’s military response. Hizballah reportedly went so far as offering reduced-price housing to Shiite families who allowed the terrorist group to store rocket launchers in their homes.

But if the global media, the UN, human rights organizations, and other international institutions predictably pounce on Israel after it causes civilian casualties, why are they doing nothing to prevent them? Hizballah’s very presence in southern Lebanon is a flagrant violation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1701, which called for the area to be a zone “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons” other than the Lebanese military and the U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

The resolution also required Hizballah to be disarmed, but the terror group today has an arsenal that rivals that of most armies. Hizballah possesses an estimated 140,000 missiles and rockets, and reportedly now can manufacture advanced weapons in underground factories that are impervious to aerial attack.

“Israel must stress again and again, before it happens, that these villages [storing Hizballah weapons] have become military posts, and are therefore legitimate targets,” said Yoram Schweitzer, senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

Meir Litvak, director of Tel Aviv University’s Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, agrees, adding that global attention would “expose Hizballah’s hypocrisy in its cynical use of civilians as… human shields.”

Even a concerted campaign to showcase Hizballah’s war preparation is unlikely to change things, said Eyal Zisser, a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. Hizballah exploits the fact that “the international community is too busy and…weak to do something about it,” Zisser said. All of “these talks and reports have no meaning. See what is happening in Syria.”

Israel has targeted Hizballah-bound weapons caches in Syria twice during the past week. Syria responded last Friday by firing a missile carrying 200 kilograms of explosives, which Israel successfully intercepted.

If Hizballah provokes a war, Israel can legitimately attack civilian areas storing Hizballah arms if the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) first attempts to warn the targeted civilians to leave those areas, Litvak said. But “it will certainly be very difficult and will look bad on TV.”

While Sunni Arab states are generally united against the Shiite Iranian-Hizballah axis, Litvak, Zisser, and Schweitzer all agreed that Israel could hope for no more than silent support from them when the missiles fly.

Indeed, the “Sunni Arab street” is likely to be inflamed by the images of civilian death and destruction caused by Israel that international media will inevitably broadcast, further limiting support for Israel from Iran’s Sunni state foes.

Rather perversely, the Lebanese government has embraced the very terrorist organization that could cause hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilian deaths by converting residential areas into war zones. “As long as Israel occupies land and covets the natural resources of Lebanon, and as long as the Lebanese military lacks the power to stand up to Israel, [Hizballah’s] arms are essential, in that they complement the actions of the army and do not contradict them,” President Michel Aoun told Egyptian television last month. Hizballah, he said, “has a complementary role to the Lebanese army.”

Aoun’s declaration means that Lebanon “takes full responsibility for all of Hizballah’s actions, including against Israel, and for their consequences to Lebanon and its entire population, even though the Lebanese government has little ability to actually control the organization’s decisions or policy,” said INSS Senior Research Fellow Assaf Orion.

MK Naftali Bennett, a veteran of Israel’s 2006 war with Hizballah, believes that Lebanon’s official acceptance of Hizballah and its policy of embedding military assets inside residential areas removes any constraints on Israeli targeting of civilian areas. “The Lebanese institutions, its infrastructure, airport, power stations, traffic junctions, Lebanese Army bases – they should all be legitimate targets if a war breaks out,” he said. “That’s what we should already be saying to them and the world now.”

In a future war, Hizballah is certain to try bombarding Israeli civilian communities with missile barrages. Israel, in response, will have to target missile launchers and weapons caches surrounded by Lebanese civilians.

But it need not be so. Global attention on Hizballah’s abuses by journalists and diplomats could lead to international pressure that ultimately reduces or even prevents civilian deaths.

Those truly concerned about civilians do not have a difficult case to make. Hizballah has shown a callous disregard for innocent life in Syria.

It helped the Syrian regime violently suppress largely peaceful protests that preceded the Syrian civil war in 2011. Last April, Hizballah and Syrian army troops reportedly killed civilians attempting to flee the Sunni-populated town of Madaya, near the Lebanese border. In 2008, its fighters seized control of several West Beirut neighborhoods and killed innocent civilians after the Lebanese government moved to shut down Hizballah’s telecommunication network.

Hizballah terrorism has claimed civilian lives for decades, including a 1994 suicide bombing at Argentina’s main Jewish center that killed 85 people . As the IDF notes, “Since 1982, hundreds of innocent civilians have lost their lives and thousands more have been injured thanks to Hizballah.”

If world powers and the international media genuinely care about avoiding civilian casualties, they should be loudly condemning Hizballah’s ongoing efforts – in flagrant violation of a UN resolution – to cause massive civilian death and destruction in Lebanon’s next war with Israel.

In-House Hizballah Missile Factories Could Add to Massive Arms Buildup

March 17, 2017

In-House Hizballah Missile Factories Could Add to Massive Arms Buildup, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin, March 17, 2017

This does not mean Hizballah is seeking a conflict with Israel now, but it does mean that should a new war erupt in the future, Israel’s civilian population will face unprecedented threats.

Israel’s defense establishment is making its own preparations accordingly, based on the understanding that this Iranian agent has developed into a full-fledged terrorist army.

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A recent report saying that Iran constructed underground missile factories in Lebanon for Hizballah would, if accurate, indicate a disturbing boost in the Shi’ite terror organization’s ability to self-produce weapons.

Already, the Israeli defense establishment sees Hizballah as a powerful and radical army rather than a ‘mere’ terror organization due to its deep and sophisticated weaponry (which surpasses that of most states), and its hierarchical command structure.

An ability to manufacture destructive rockets and missiles would mean that the militant Islamist Lebanese-Shi’ite organization is no longer entirely reliant on arms trafficking from its patron Iran and ally, the Assad regime in Syria.

The report, made available by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), was published in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida. It cites an aide to the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as its source. The IRGC’s Quds Force is an elite unit that runs Iran’s extensive overseas operations to arm, finance, and strengthen Iran’s regional proxies.

According to the Kuwaiti report, the IRGC built the arms-making facilities more than 50 meters underground and fortified them against air strikes before handing control of them over to Hizballah three months ago.

The report is well within the realm of the possible, Ely Karmon, a Hizballah expert and a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya told the Investigative Project on Terrorism. He pointed to a 2015 statement made by the IRGC’s Aerospace Force commander, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, boasting that Tehran has provided “Syria, Iraq, Palestine and the Lebanese Hizballah resistance group with the needed know-how to produce missiles.”

“The IRGC’s Aerospace Force has developed to a stage in the field of missile industries that it can mass-produce different types of short- and mid-range missiles,” Hajizadeh said.

Assessing the latest Kuwaiti report, Karmon said that it is “possible that these Hizballah military factories are in the Quseyr area in Syria, and not in Lebanon.” Quseyr is an area of western Syria near Lebanon which has come under Hizballah control in recent years after being seized from Sunni rebel organizations.

Israel bombed targets in the area in the past, Karmon noted, likely as part of Israel’s covert program to selectively disrupt of Hizballah’s force build-up.

In November, Hizballah paraded its heavy weaponry in Quseyr – including tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery guns, and missile launchers.

The Kuwaiti report also claimed that “a special department has been established at the IRGC’s Imam Hossein University [in Tehran] to train Lebanese and other experts, and hundreds of experts have already been trained… The manufacture of the missiles does not take place in one factory; different parts are built in different factories and then assembled together.”

The missile factories reportedly can produce surface-to-surface missiles with a range of over 500 kilometers – in other words, capable of hitting anywhere in Israel – surface-to-sea missiles, perhaps intended to hit Israeli ships and Israel’s offshore gas rigs in the Mediterranean Sea, armed drones, anti-tank missiles, and other weapons. The production sites can also be used to make machine guns, mortars, and anti-aircraft guns.

Since the end of the 2006 war with Israel, Hizballah stockpiled an arsenal totaling 120,000 missiles – one of the largest of its kind in the world. The vast majority of these arms were manufactured in Iran and Syria and smuggled into Lebanon. A growing number are guided rockets and missiles, which Hizballah could use to try to use to overcome Israeli air defenses and target sensitive targets.

Iranian weapons transfers continue regardless of whether Hizballah has access to its own missile factories. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provided details on “the ongoing Iranian attempt to transfer weapons, advanced weapons, to Hizballah, via Syria,” when he visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this month.

Reports say that Israel targeted such weapons again overnight, triggering Syrian surface-to-air missile fire at Israeli jets. At least one of those missiles reportedly was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow defense system.

Hizballah also is training elite terror cells to infiltrate Israel during the next war, and to temporarily ‘conquer’ northern Israeli communities in a bid to demoralize Israelis.

These preparations, it is safe to assume, are being closely monitored by Israel.

Hizballah’s deep involvement fighting for the Assad regime in Syria for four years also has boosted its power. The best form of training is combat itself, and its operatives have been exposed to Iranian commanders and technology on the battlefields of Syria.

Meanwhile, back in Lebanon, Hizballah has embedded the vast majority of its bases, rocket launchers, and command posts in civilian regions, including a massive maze of underground tunnels and subterranean compounds.

Yet all is not well in Hizballah’s camp despite its clear and growing power. Hizballah is facing a dramatic economic crisis due to a shortage of cash flow from Iran, which itself has not yet received all of the funds it was expecting to get after signing the nuclear deal.

Hizballah’s expenses are not only military and terrorist. They include many civilian and political activities in Lebanon, for which it is now struggling to pay. Additionally, the fact that it has sustained more than 1,500 casualties in Syria has demoralized sections of the traditional Lebanese Shi’ite support base.

Nevertheless, Hizballah is pushing to build up its massive offensive capabilities against Israel.

It seeks more accurate rockets and missiles, while its leader Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly threatened to strike Israeli strategic targets such as ships carrying industrial ammonia to the Israeli city of Haifa, and Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.

This does not mean Hizballah is seeking a conflict with Israel now, but it does mean that should a new war erupt in the future, Israel’s civilian population will face unprecedented threats.

Israel’s defense establishment is making its own preparations accordingly, based on the understanding that this Iranian agent has developed into a full-fledged terrorist army.