- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

JERUSALEM Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon have been firing anti-aircraft shells on Israeli border towns, Israeli sources say.

The shells have been fired in recent weeks by Hezbollah guerrillas at Israeli reconnaissance aircraft. Israeli sources say the direction of the firing suggests it is aimed less at hitting the high-flying planes than at harassing Israeli border towns.

In the town of Kiryat Shmona, the target of numerous Hezbollah rocket attacks in the past, residents were told not to leave their homes for an hour on Sunday after shell fragments fell within the town's borders for the fourth time in recent weeks.

Israeli Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh said yesterday that Hezbollah, with Iran's backing, is attempting to provoke an Israeli reaction that would lead to a regional conflagration. He said Israel would refrain from reacting "as long as we can."

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said at the United Nations this week that Iran has provided Hezbollah with 10,000 rockets, some with a range of 40 miles. This exposes the city of Haifa, with its petrochemical industries, to rocket attack from across the Lebanese border.

The latent hostility of Iran's fundamentalist regime toward the Jewish state has taken a high profile in recent weeks. Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaking in a Tehran stadium in December, called for Israel's nuclear destruction. A single nuclear bomb would be sufficient to destroy Israel, he said, whereas any Israeli counterstrike could do only limited damage.

Iran denies that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and says that a reactor under construction with Russian assistance at the Gulf port of Bushehr is for peaceful purposes only. Iranian Defense Minister Adm. Ali Shamkhani warned Israel this week that if it attempted to attack the nuclear plant as it did Iraq's nuclear facility in 1981, "it will face a response that will be unimaginable to any Israeli politician."

Jane's Intelligence Review has predicted that Israel "will almost certainly launch a pre-emptive attack" on Iran's nuclear infrastructure before it can generate enough material to provide nuclear warheads to its ballistic missiles.

That point is still several years away, analysts say. But Iran already is developing a missile with a 700-mile range capable of hitting Israel.

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