Iran Steps Up Arming Hizbullah Against Israel

Vol. 10, No. 21    January 10, 2011

    • Israeli and Western intelligence services have long been aware of Syrian and Iranian involvement in Hizbullah’s arms buildup. Damascus Airport has been identified as the transit point for airlifts of Iranian arms that were subsequently transferred to Hizbullah via the open Syrian-Lebanese border, under the supervision of the Syrian security services.
    • A senior Pentagon official has divulged that Hizbullah has 50,000 rockets and missiles, including 40-50 Fatah 110 missiles and 10 SCUD-C ground-to-ground missiles. Furthermore, some 10,000 Hizbullah fighters have been provided with a broad range of modern weapons, while the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have trained Hizbullah teams to operate these weapons.
    • Currently, the Iranians exercise more control than ever over Hizbullah. Iranian General Hassan Madavi, Commander of the Lebanon Corps of the Revolutionary Guards, sits in Beirut alongside scores of Iranian officers and experts.
    • The Iranian intelligence services, operating in the framework of the Revolutionary Guards, have built many cells in Africa, most of which rely on Shiite emigrants from Lebanon. This is being undertaken in the framework of the African Division of the Jerusalem Corps of the Guards, an effort headed by Gen. Qassem Suleymani. After training in Iran, they serve as a nucleus for recruiting others and provide a base for Iranian intelligence activity in their countries.
    • In South Lebanon, with the assistance of the engineering units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hizbullah has dug tunnels that conceal its fighters from the watchful eye of Israeli UAVs that patrol the region. Hizbullah command centers were also equipped with an independent communications network funded by Iran.
    • Hizbullah also continues to conceal its war materiel in mosques, schools, fire stations, and the like. According to Israeli intelligence, at least 100 Lebanese villages have become genuine military bases.

New Missiles Target Israel’s Home Front

In January 2010, American intelligence services reported the transfer of 26 M-6002 missiles of Syrian manufacture to Hizbullah in Lebanon. These missiles, with a range of over 250 km., are intended to reinforce Hizbullah’s ability to strike at the Israeli home front if and when hostilities erupt. This unverified report corresponds with other efforts by Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah to prepare for a new round of hostilities with Israel.

It is an open secret that the Syrian-Lebanese border has been deliberately left wide open by Syria in order to guarantee the supply of war materiel to Hizbullah. The Lebanese Army is thinly deployed along the 359-km. border with Syria and is unable to block the movement of Hizbullah fighters or Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Any thoughts of attempting to block the border must also take into account the presence of belligerent Palestinian units such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Fatah Intifada that answer to Syria.1

Israeli and Western intelligence services have long been aware of Syrian and Iranian involvement in Hizbullah’s arms buildup. Damascus Airport has been identified as the transit point for airlifts of Iranian arms that were subsequently transferred to Hizbullah via the open Syrian-Lebanese border, under the supervision of the Syrian security services.

Hizbullah’s Logistics Network

In the spring of 2010, Western intelligence services received a rare glimpse into the logistics network built by Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah for the passage of weapons from Iran to Hizbullah in Lebanon. This network was built following the slaying of Hizbullah military commander Imad Mughniyeh and was intended, first and foremost, to guarantee Hizbullah’s clandestine activity and the security of its fighters and commanders.

Three logistic bodies handle the mission of weapons transfer.2 They are dealing with at least 40,000 rockets of all sizes that passed from Iran to Hizbullah, which were intended to replenish the weapons arsenal that was lost in the Second Lebanon War and provide Hizbullah with the ability to strike deep into Israel – capabilities superior to those it possessed in 2006. A senior Pentagon official has divulged that Hizbullah has 50,000 rockets and missiles, including 40-50 Fatah 110 missiles and 10 SCUD-C ground-to-ground missiles.3

According to a U.S. State Department cable dated Feb. 25, 2010, and released by WikiLeaks, “the Government of Israel is concerned that Syria intends to imminently transfer SCUD-D missiles to Hizbullah in Lebanon. We share this concern. The transfer of such weapons would constitute a significant escalation of a potentially volatile situation that could threaten regional stability.” U.S. diplomats were instructed to “caution” the Syrian government “against such a serious escalation,” and warn it that “operational support for Hizbullah is a strategic miscalculation that is damaging” to Syria’s long-term national interests.4

Furthermore, some 10,000 Hizbullah fighters have been provided with personal weapons, intermediate and long-range missiles, and high-trajectory and flat-trajectory weapons. According to Ha’aretz, Iran has even provided Hizbullah with UAVs and perhaps even with attack aircraft. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been identified as being responsible for training Hizbullah teams to operate these weapons systems.5

Unit 108, whose main office is located in Damascus, is the main body in the organizational chain that engages in weapons transfers, and it was involved in transferring the M-6002 missiles. The mission of this unit is to transfer weapons that arrive from Iran and from logistics bases in Syria to logistics bases located along and near the Syrian-Lebanese border. “Regular” warehouses are located in Damascus, in Duma near the Syrian capital, and near Adra, adjacent to Damascus International Airport. “Reserve” warehouses are located in the region of Aleppo, Homs, and the coastal city of Tartous.

The second body in the logistics chain is Unit 112, whose job is to disperse the war materiel among Hizbullah bases in the Bekaa Valley and elsewhere. The transfers take place in convoys of trucks that frequently change their license plates.

Finally, there are two sub-units of Unit 100, whose job is to transfer Hizbullah fighters and Iranian advisors between Syria, Iran, and Lebanon. This is the unit that dispatches Hizbullah cadres to Iran for training on the missile systems that Iran supplies.

It should be emphasized that currently, the Iranians exercise more control than ever over Hizbullah. Iranian General Hassan Madavi, Commander of the Lebanon Corps of the Revolutionary Guards, sits in Beirut alongside scores of Iranian officers and experts.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Develop New Arms Smuggling Routes

On November 3, 2009, the Israeli Navy intercepted the cargo ship MV Francop, which carried Iranian weapons bound for Hizbullah. The ship was heading for the Syrian port of Latakia. Nearly 500 tons of weapons were seized, hidden in 36 containers. There were 2,800 short-range 107mm and 122mm rockets as well as 106mm recoilless artillery shells, grenades, and ammunition.6 Once the Iranians became aware that Western intelligence services and Israel were focusing their information-gathering efforts on Lebanon, Syria, and Iran, they sought to develop alternative sea routes after the weapons-smuggling route in Sudan was exposed and attacked in March 2009.

In March 2010, five Italians and two Iranian citizens were arrested in Italy on charges of weapons smuggling. Investigators discovered that the network had been active since 2007 and engaged in the purchase of war materiel in Europe and its transfer via England, Switzerland, and Romania to Iran.7 Albania served as a transfer base for weapons that were purchased for Hizbullah in the Ukraine.8 In Thailand as well, a shipment of war materiel was seized that had been sent from North Korea to Hizbullah, after a technical malfunction compelled the plane to make an emergency landing in Bangkok and thus exposed the shipment.9

A new African weapons route was exposed in October 2010 when Nigerian authorities seized 13 containers at the port of Lagos that had arrived from Iran, containing 107mm rockets, bombs, grenades, rifles, machine guns, and ammunition, camouflaged as building material.10 The Nigerian authorities were induced to take action with encouragement from the United States. Furthermore, UN Security Council Resolution 1929 permits countries to take over ships suspected of transferring war materiel in order to examine their cargo.

As a result of the ship’s exposure, Iranian official Ali Akbar Tabatabai’i, the person responsible for the African Division in the Revolutionary Guards’ Jerusalem Corps, who was directly responsible for dispatching the ship to Nigeria, was compelled to flee and seek sanctuary in the Iranian Embassy in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. From there, he made his way directly to the private plane of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who was visiting the country at the time, and from there to Iran. However, Tabatabai’i’s assistant, Azim Agha Jani, was arrested by the Nigerian authorities.11

The Role of the Lebanese Shiite Diaspora

The Iranian intelligence services, operating in the framework of the Revolutionary Guards, have built many cells in Africa, most of which rely on Shiite emigrants from Lebanon who live in Africa. This is being undertaken in the framework of the African Division of the Jerusalem Corps of the Guards, an effort headed by Gen. Qassem Suleymani. According to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Shiraa, Imad Mughniyeh was the architect who initiated the establishment of support cells in Lebanese Shiite communities outside of Lebanon. Lebanese recruited for the Iranian intelligence efforts were invited to visit Iran, where they underwent training in the field of intelligence. Upon their return, they serve as a nucleus for recruiting others and provide a base for Iranian intelligence activity in their countries.12

Proof of such involvement of Lebanese citizens was provided in June 2010 when a Lebanese civilian was arrested in Paraguay by Interpol and accused of financing Hizbullah.13 That same month, two Lebanese residents of Ohio in the U.S. were arrested and charged with assisting Hizbullah.14

There is no doubt that the Lebanese Shiite community overseas provides a convenient recruiting ground for Iranian intelligence. Their familiarity with the area in which they live, their ability to move freely, their command of the local language, and their ability to obtain the support of local officialdom through bribery or business dealings all provide Iran with a significant advantage. However, due to the recent stiffening of sanctions against Iran and the increased interdiction activity by Western intelligence services led by the United States, some reservations have been heard about following Iran blindly. Iran’s strategic objectives do not necessarily dovetail with the narrow interests of the Lebanese Shiite diaspora community, which is largely focused on seeking an easier life and turning a profit.15

Hizbullah’s Feverish Preparations for Renewed Conflict

Following the Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah reorganized its command-and-control system. In South Lebanon, with the assistance of the engineering units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hizbullah dug tunnels that conceal its fighters from the watchful eye of Israeli UAVs that patrol the region.

Hizbullah command centers were also equipped with an independent communications network distinct from the system covering all of Lebanon. A U.S. State Department cable dated Apr. 16, 2008, and released by WikiLeaks, “decried the establishment of a complete fiber optics network by Hizbullah throughout Lebanon.” Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh cited the Iranian Fund for the Reconstruction of Lebanon as the source of funding for the network.16

As in the past, Hizbullah also continues to conceal its war materiel in mosques, schools, fire stations, and the like.17 According to Israeli intelligence, at least 100 Lebanese villages have become genuine military bases.18

All this attests to the feverish preparations that Iran is making, not only in anticipation of a renewed military conflict between Hizbullah and Israel, but also in anticipation of the possibility that Hizbullah will move to subdue the Lebanese government, should it decide to do so.

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Notes

1. Sanaa Aljaq, “Smuggling of Weapons and Fighters Continues in Front of the World and the Common Borders Are Open to the Syrians,” Asharq Alawsat (London), November 11, 2008.

2. Georges Malbrunot, “Dans le secret des caches d’armes du Hizbullah,” Le Figaro-International, October 26, 2010.

3. Iran-Hizbullah Relationship Tracker 2010, Iran Tracker, November 16, 2010, www. Irantracker.org.

4. http://213.251.145.96/cable/2010/02/10STATE17307.html.

5. Iran Tracker.

6. “Israeli Navy Captures Ship Carrying Weapons on Its Way to Hizbullah in Lebanon,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, November 5, 2009, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/iran_e035.htm.

7. “Italy Arrests Iran Arms Smugglers,” AlJazeera.net, March 3, 2010.

8. Iran Tracker.

9. Ibid.

10. Alex Fishman, “The Iranian Octopus,” Yediot Ahronot, October 31, 2010.

11. Hassan Zabaraa, “Iranian Intelligence in Africa Threatens the Life and the Interests of the Lebanese,” www.alshiraa.com/details.php?id=6569.

12. Ibid.

13. Iran Tracker.

14. Ibid.

15. Hassan Zabraa.

16. http://cablesearch.org/cable/view.php?id=08BEIRUT523&hl=Iran+Syria.

17. Sanaa Aljaq. See also “Hizbullah Tunnels Under Border,” Jerusalem Post, July 13, 2010.

18. Ha’aretz, July 8, 2010.

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Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.

About Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah

Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.