- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While world attention is focused on the fighting between Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza, Hezbollah has quietly been rebuilding its military arsenal in Lebanon, much of which was destroyed in the terror group’s 2006 war with Israel. Last month U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a report noting without rebuttal Israeli government claims that Hezbollah continues to rearm and has an arsenal containing 10,000 long-range rockets and 20,000 short-range rockets in Southern Lebanon. He also noted that Hezbollah has admitted smuggling weapons from Iran and Syria into Lebanon and expressed concern about threats of open war by the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

Now, Israel estimates the number of rockets in Hezbollah’s possession has climbed to 42,000 — the overwhelming majority of them easily concealed short-range weapons which were used to devastating effect by Hezbollah against Israel in the summer 2006 war. Israel estimates that as many as several hundred of these rockets are Iranian-made long-range weapons with a range of up to 185 miles — enough to reach anywhere in Israel’s heavily populated central heartland and targets as far south as Dimona, the location of Israel’s nuclear reactor.

For months, Mr. Nasrallah has been warning Israel that Hezbollah has a “surprise” new weapon in its arsenal; many Lebanese believe he is referring to a ground-to-air missile that would challenge for the first time the Israel Air Force’s supremacy in the skies over Lebanon. Robert Fisk, a Lebanon-based reporter for The Independent newspaper, reports that in southern Lebanon up to 300 young Lebanese men each month travel to Beirut and on to Tehran. As many as 4,500 of these Hezbollah members have been sent to Iran for three-month military training sessions with rockets and live-fire ammunition since November 2006. The goal is to train a cadre of guerrillas for the next war between Hezbollah and Israel.

The United Nations condemns Israel for violating Lebanon’s sovereignty by conducting overflights of Lebanese territory. Israel, for its part, responds that if it did not conduct such surveillance, it would be unable to monitor the continuing smuggling of weapons into Hezbollah from Tehran and Damascus. In recent weeks, Israeli officials have met with officials from European Union and NATO countries to warn them about Iranian efforts to transfer long-range missiles to Hezbollah. In particular, Israel is concerned about efforts to smuggle weapons through Turkish airspace and overland disguised as civilian cargo. Once again, Israel and Iran (through its terrorist surrogates) appear to be on a collision course.

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