Syria: Israel blasts Hezbollah's missile chain

BEIRUT, Lebanon, May 6 (UPI) -- Israeli airstrikes against Syria appear to be concentrating on hitting the flow of Iranian and Syrian arms, including surface-to-surface and anti-aircraft, missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon, rather than President Bashar Assad's embattled regime in Damascus.

Israeli warplanes, firing U.S.-built stand-off weapons from undefended Lebanese air space or over the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights in southern Syria, blasted targets around Damascus in two waves of predawn attacks Sunday.


At least four targets were hit in the raids, which Israel's Channel 10 television described as Israel's "biggest attack in Syria since 1973" during Israel's war with Syria and Egypt.

The targets were the Jamraya Scientific Studies and Research Center northwest of Damascus near the Lebanese border and military installations on Mount Qassiyoun, an escarpment that dominates the city.

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The Israeli air force carried out a raid Friday against targets at Damascus International Airport that were reportedly immediately handed over to Hezbollah's brigades operating in Syria to aid the regime.


Jamraya, supposedly the depot for missile convoys into Lebanon, was hit Jan. 30 in the first of the Israeli airstrikes in the current campaign, and like the other raids has never been officially acknowledged by Israel.

The Israelis claim that destroyed a shipment of Russian-built SA-8 Gecko and SA-17 Grizzly surface-to-air missiles that could challenge Israel's long-held air supremacy in the region, the Jewish state's most effective military deterrent.

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Israeli sources said the weekend attacks sought to destroy a new consignment of Iranian Fateh-110 -- or Conqueror -- missiles that was reportedly airlifted to Damascus Airport.

These missiles have a range of 190 miles and carry a warhead of 1,300 pounds of high explosives. They can hit almost any part of Israel, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert.

Most importantly, they're more accurate than most of the 55,000 missiles and rockets Hezbollah's reported to possess. Indeed, they're the most effective weapon in Hezbollah's Iranian-supplied arsenal.

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Israel says that Iran, Hezbollah's mentor, has positioned this vast arsenal, painstakingly built up by Syria and Iran since the inconclusive 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, to bombard the Jewish state if it launches preventive attacks on Tehran's nuclear infrastructure.


Hezbollah has reportedly had scores of Fateh-110s and M-600s, their Syrian-engineered derivative, since 2006.

By all account, Iran has provided Hezbollah with this vast arsenal -- three or four times greater than it had in 2006 when 4,000 missiles were fired into northern Israel -- to create a new strategic front.

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Israel's also alarmed that Syria's chemical weapons could fall into Hezbollah's hands.

But former Israeli intelligence officer Michael Ross observed that these are "tangential to the overall issue of Israel's enemies possessing long-range missile capability."

So hitting Hezbollah's missiles, which would be used to carry chemical warheads, is seen as the next best option to the more dangerous strategy of trying to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, risking massive deadly fallout.

Israel launched its campaign against Hezbollah's weapons program after the 2006 war, when Tehran's plans to provide Hezbollah, as well as Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, with long-range weapons went into overdrive.

Lebanese analyst Tony Badran says the airstrikes "are the latest installment in an integrated campaign against Iran's forward positions on Israel's northern and southern borders."

A key tactic was to sabotage Iran's missile program and assassinate important figures army Hezbollah.


The first target for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency was Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah's longtime military mastermind and until Osama bin Laden came along the world's most wanted terrorist fugitive. He was killed up in Damascus Feb. 12, 2008, supposedly by Israel.

Next to go was Brig. Gen. Mohammed Suleiman, Assad's special adviser on arms procurement and strategic weapons and arms transfers to Hezbollah. He was killed by a sniper Aug, 1, 2008, at the luxury resort of Zahabieh on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

On Jan. 20, 2010, Hamas' chief arms procurer, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was assassinated in the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai.

Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the Revolutionary Guards commander who was the brains behind Iran's ballistic missile program and who'd created Hezbollah's missile force in Lebanon, was killed in a mysterious explosion at a military base west of Tehran.

A senior Guards officer disclosed that Moghaddam had worked with Mughniyeh, Suleiman and Mabhouh.

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