The Shiite Lebanese group Hezbollah is smuggling advanced guided-missile systems into Lebanon in preparation for a future conflict with Israel, according to US officials.
The group’s armament efforts have been hampered by at least five IDF air strikes against its smuggling routes and depots in Syria in 2013 alone. In response, the Lebanese group is attempting to smuggle weapons into Lebanon in pieces, believing that the piecemeal shipments, overseen by Iran’s Al-Quds force, are more difficult to spot and intercept, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The new strategy sees Israel and Hezbollah battling to shape the future war between them under cover of the conflict currently waging in neighboring Syria.
Parts of an advanced antiship missile system are already in Lebanon, the Journal reported, citing US officials and “previously undisclosed intelligence.” Additional systems meant to strike Israeli planes and ground targets are already en route in Syrian depots controlled by Hezbollah.
According to the officials, the systems would mark a significant upgrade in Hezbollah’s capabilities and its “ability to deter Israel” in a future conflict. If deployed, Hezbollah would gain the ability to shoot down Israeli aircraft in any aerial campaign over Lebanon or Syria, while also peppering Israeli cities with its estimated 100,000 “dumb” rockets, stored in villages and hidden silos throughout southern Lebanon.
Citing both US and Israeli officials, the Journal report claims Hezbollah is working to obtain the new capabilities in order to better serve as an Iranian deterrent in case Israel decides to strike Iran’s nuclear program.
And, the officials said, the significantly improved capabilities are an enticement to the Lebanese Shiite group to remain on the ground in Syria supporting the regime of the country’s dictator Bashar al-Assad, who depends on its forces for his survival.
According to Israeli and US sources, Israel’s strikes on past Hezbollah smuggling efforts have kept shipments of SA-17 antiaircraft and Fateh-110 ground-to-ground weapons out of Lebanon.
But the Israeli strikes are not foolproof, the US officials believe. As many as 12 Russian-made antiship systems located in Hezbollah depots in Syria may have survived Israeli strikes, and some components may already be in Lebanon.