Lebanese fears of Israeli strike swell

Aug. 20, 2009 at 12:18 PM
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BEIRUT, Lebanon, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Reports that Israel has ordered 100 "bunker buster" bombs from the United States has caused tremors of concern in Lebanon that the weapons are for use against Hezbollah in the event of war between Iran and the Jewish state.

The Jerusalem Post reported Aug. 3 that the Israeli Defense Ministry ordered the laser-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition kits earlier this summer.

The kits are fitted onto conventional bombs to transform them into precision-guided weapons that are highly accurate and capable of destroying bunkers built deep underground.

Since Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel, the Iranian-backed Shiite movement has rebuilt an elaborate network of bunkers in South Lebanon and constructed a whole new defensive line north of the Litani River.

These include command-and-control centers, arms dumps and underground launch sites for an estimated 20,000 rockets the Israelis claim Hezbollah has deployed in the south.

The Jerusalem Post cited no delivery date for the LJDAMs, but the order was reported amid growing concerns that Israel may launch a unilateral strike against Iran to knock out its nuclear program infrastructure.

U.S. leaders have cautioned in recent weeks that the Obama administration still retains its options for a military strike of its own.

U.S. efforts to open a dialogue with Tehran on the nuclear issue appear to have been stymied by the political turmoil gripping Iran following the disputed re-election of firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad June 12 and the growing power of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a key Ahmadinejad ally that controls Iran's nuclear and missile programs.

American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have found the LJDAM's guidance system -- combining GPS systems and lasers, frequently used by ground troops to designate targets for strike aircraft -- is particularly effective against moving targets.

"Given that most of the targets that Israeli intelligence would be able to pinpoint in Iran would be fixed, the LJDAM seems most appropriate for a South Lebanon scenario targeting Hezbollah fighters and Revolutionary Guards officers operating in Lebanon," according to the Texas-based Strategic Forecasting security consultancy.

It noted the Israelis used earlier versions of the JDAM "in South Lebanon in 2006 and then in Gaza in 2009 … for targeting everything from Hezbollah safe houses in downtown Beirut to smuggling tunnels along the Gaza border with Egypt."

Hezbollah would be a key target for Israel if hostilities erupt with Iran because Tehran would be expected to activate it to retaliate against the Jewish state.

Hezbollah's main weapon would be the estimated 40,000 rockets it is believed to have amassed since 2006. These include long-range weapons deployed in northwest Lebanon capable of hitting deep inside Israel.

Palestinian Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip on Israel's southern border, who are also aided by Tehran, would likely open up too.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has threatened to bombard Tel Aviv if the Israelis bomb Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold. The area was pounded daily by Israeli air raids throughout the 2006 conflict. Tel Aviv was never hit.

There have been no significant clashes between Hezbollah and Israel since that conflict ended. But there have been constant provocations. Israeli jets violate Lebanese airspace almost daily, and troops recently extended border fortifications.

On July 14 a Hezbollah arms dump hidden in the basement of a house in the border village of Khirbet Silim blew up. Israel charged that the dump was only one of around 100 violating U.N. Security Resolution 1701, which ended hostilities in 2006.

According to security sources in Beirut, Israel had tipped off the U.N. peacekeeping force in South Lebanon about the cache and demanded it destroy the dump.

Lebanese concerns have heightened with the breaking up of some 15 Israeli spy cells across the country. Some 40 people have been indicted for espionage.

The extent of the elaborate network and the scale of its operations, assassinations and gathering intelligence on Hezbollah have stunned the nation. The suspects, Muslims and Christians, include a former brigadier general in Lebanon's leading security service and three army colonels.

According to security authorities, some agents had identified targets that were attacked in 2006 and were supposedly pinpointing new ones to be hit if hostilities resume.

In anticipating the blowback from Hezbollah in the event of strikes against Iran, Strategic Forecasting noted that "Israel would have a strong interest in degrading Hezbollah's military capabilities prior to attacking Iran."

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