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Re-arming Race In Mideast

"In recent Middle East conflicts shipments of Kornet AT-14 (pictured) and Metis AT-13 anti tank missiles to Syria were passed on to Hezbollah and some penetrated the armor of Israel's most advanced tanks, the Markava Mark IV."
by Joshua Brilliant
UPI Correspondent
Tel Aviv (UPI) Feb 22, 2007
Six months after the attacks against Lebanon, Syria, Hezbollah and Israel are all beefing up their forces, preparing for another round of hostilities though none seem imminent. The Haaretz newspaper reported Thursday that the Syrian armed forces "are being strengthened in an unprecedented way in recent memory." The emphasis is on bolstering its missile and long-range rocket capability, the newspaper said.

The Syrians recently test-fired two Scud-D ballistic missiles whose range would reach most of Israel. Syria has also shorter range rockets and supplied many of them to the Lebanese Hezbollah (that fired 4,000 rockets during the war).

"The missiles and rockets are part of an effort to compensate for the obvious weakness of the Syrian air force. This way Syrians could strike Israeli cities and also carry out accurate attacks against military targets inside the country," Haaretz' defense expert Zeev Schiff wrote.

"Information received in Israel recently" says that Damascus is about to conclude a deal underwhich it would buy thousands of advanced Russian anti-tank missiles, Haaretz added.

Earlier shipments of Kornet AT-14 and Metis AT-13 anti tank missiles to Syria were passed on to Hezbollah and some penetrated the armor of Israel's most advanced tanks, the Markava Mark IV. Schiff did not identify his sources. However his report, and another on Hezbollah's buildup by Yediot Aharonot's military commentator Alex Fishman, immediately followed a militay intelligence briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

According to intelligence leaked to Yediot Aharonot, Hezbollah has more than 10,000 short range rockets in southern Lebanon and more are being smuggled from Syria. The Lebanon war proved that a continuous barrage of such rockets has a strategtic impact. According to Yediot Aharonot's sources, Hezbollah realized that its daily barrage of 250 rockets was insufficient and it would like to double or treble that number.

Some weapons reach Hezbollah from Iran via Syria. The shipments are flown to Syria through Turkish airspace and the Israelis suspect some are transported by trucks, also via Turkey. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert raised the matter in his talks in Ankara last week and his interlocutors maintained they were not aware of it, a senior official on Olmert's plane told United Press Internatrional. Olmert intends to pursue the matter.

Retired Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, who headed a team that investigated the military intelligence performance before and after the war, told UPI the weapons reach Hezbollah, "Slowly so as not to worsen the atmosphere." The shipments violate the United Nations' Security Council's resolution, he noted.

Hezbollah needs, however, time to recruit new people and train them, sometimes in Iran. It is returning to southern Lebanon but is keeping a lower profile, in civvies, he said. According to Yediot Aharonot Hezbollah is gradually rebuilding its bunkers, rocket launching sites and command and control centers. However with the reinforced UNIFIL peacekeepers around, and the Lebanese army troops reaching the Israeli border, Hezbollah has more difficulties gathering intelligence on Israel. One of the consequences of last year's war is that Israel's deterrence has been eroded. Amidror said the Syrians "have begun thinking that perhaps it is possible to fight Israel."

Moreover, Iran whose help to Syria had been "minor," is now willing to provide "more significant help." Teheran changed its attitude because it is facing the United States, Amidror said.

However, Syria's significant missile buildup still does not alter some basic flaws in its air and armored forces, he continued.

Defense experts do not expects new hostilities in the spring or summer. The head of the Defense Minister's Diplomatic-Security Staff, Maj. Gen. in the reserves Amos Gilad, said Thursday there were no signs of any Syrians or Hezbollah preparations for attack in the coming months.

Once Hezbollah resumes provocations, however, "we shall have to take the Syria army's capabilities into account," Gilad said. Syria "is building its forces for the long run," he added.

The Israeli military has meanwhile analyzed its mistakes during the war, the chief of general staff and two other generals resigned, Israel is acquiring more military hardware and enhancing the capabilities of its Arrow anti-ballistic missile that should stop the Syrian Scuds and Iranian Shehabs.

One of the main flaws discovered in the last war was that its army hasn't trained properly because so much effort was invested in policing the occupied territories.

That too is changing. This week the paratroop brigade had an extensive exercise on the Golan Heights, a possible battlefield with Syria. For five years there hasn't been such an exercise and some of the army's senior commanders lacked experience in managing big forces.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who watched those maneuvers, said described them as, "a very significant beginning of implementing the army's work plan for 2007 that focuses on training the standing army and later the reserves."

Peretz seemed to have a problem at one point in that exercise. Yediot Aharonot Thursday ran on its front page a picture in which Peretz observed a maneuver through binoculars. It was a typical picture of a commander in a military setting but his lenses had the covers on.

Source: United Press International

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