Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Militant-fired missiles bracket Israel


Most forms of attack against Israel have been reduced in recent months because of the ceasefire, but Qassam attacks have increased - 377 in 2005 compared to 309 the previous year. Israel believes that the persistent Qassam launches are testimony to the failure of its deterrence policy and that by withdrawing its forces from Gaza, Israel's ability to locate Qassam workshops and other engineering sites has been seriously impaired.

The Israelis have also come under rocket fire from Lebanon in recent weeks - in large part stemming from the political turmoil in Lebanon blamed on Syrian assassinations and destabilisation. Israel fears that the turmoil triggered in Lebanon by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on 14 February 2005, widely blamed on Syria, is deepening and that Syria will seek to further destabilise the situation in South Lebanon. Israeli intelligence chiefs have stated that Hizbullah, Syria's main ally in Lebanon, has been ordered to prepare missile bombardment of strategic facilities in northern Israel.

The Israelis claimed that Hizbullah has stockpiled 15,000 missiles and rockets provided by Iran and Syria, some with ranges of up to 100 km. A recent study by Rafael, Israel's armaments development authority, assessed that Hizbullah missiles had the range and power to destroy the oil refinery and chemical plants in the Haifa area, considered strategic targets by the Israelis.

Among the most powerful weapons supposedly in the Hizbullah arsenal are Iranian-made Fajr-3 and Fajr-4 systems with ranges of up to 70 km. There are also supposed to be enhanced 330 mm Katyushas. Hizbullah's leadership has never officially acknowledged having such a massive inventory, but has hinted that its forces are well supplied with missiles. Hizbullah, and through it Iran, has close links to Islamic Jihad in Gaza