From The Times Online. Below the fold, I will include a number of Stratfor analysis to have been released in the past few days which seem to be indicating an Israeli strike on Iran may be in the works, something Stratfor itself has been saying is at least very unlikely.
Three years after Israel fought a bloody war in Lebanon against Hezbollah, there are fears that hostilities could erupt again — this time with the militant group better armed than ever.
According to Israeli, United Nations and Hezbollah officials, the Shia Muslim militia is stronger than it was in 2006 when it took on the Israeli army in a war that killed 1,191 Lebanese and 43 Israeli civilians.
Hezbollah has up to 40,000 rockets and is training its forces to use ground-to-ground missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv, and anti-aircraft missiles that could challenge Israel’s dominance of the skies over Lebanon.
Brigadier-General Alon Friedman, the deputy head of the Israeli Northern Command, told The Times from his headquarters overlooking the Israeli-Lebanese border that the peace of the past three years could “explode at any minute”.
His concerns were due partly to threats from Hezbollah’s leadership. Last month Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, warned that if the southern suburbs of Beirut were bombed as they were in the last war, he would strike back against Tel Aviv, the largest Israeli city.
“We have changed the equation that had existed previously,” he said. “Now the southern suburbs versus Tel Aviv, and not Beirut versus Tel Aviv.”
Hezbollah’s rearming is in the name of resistance against Israel. The real reason, however, probably has more to do with its ally Iran. If Israel carries out its threat to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, the main retaliation is likely to come from Hezbollah in Lebanon.
All sides agreed that the threat was not a bluff. Last month the scale of the Hezbollah build-up was revealed after an explosion at an ammunition bunker in the village of Khirbet Slim, 12 miles from the Israeli border.
Surveillance footage obtained by The Times showed Hezbollah fighters trying to salvage rockets and munitions from the site. Obstructions were placed in the way of Unifil peacekeepers going to investigate.
Alain Le Roy, the head of UN peacekeeping operations, told the Security Council last month that the explosion amounted to a serious violation of UN Resolution 1701, which imposed a ceasefire and arms ban after the war.
“A number of indications suggest that the depot belonged to Hezbollah and, in contrast to previous discoveries by Unifil and the Lebanese Armed Forces of weapons and ammunition, that it was not abandoned but, rather, actively maintained,” he said.
Unifil’s mandate is due to be renewed by the Security Council this month and Israel is pressing for the peacekeepers to be more robust in stopping Hezbollah and other armed groups from infiltrating the UN-patrolled region south of the Litani river. Hezbollah, which is armed, trained and financed by Iran, has been engaged in a recruitment, training and rearmament drive since the end of the 2006 war. Although basic training on firing weapons is taught at camps in the mountains flanking the Bekaa Valley, specialised courses are carried out in Iran. Hundreds of fighters have travelled to Iran since 2006 to learn about bomb-making, anti-tank missiles, sniping and firing rockets.
“War will definitely come,” said Hussam, a 33-year-old fighter who joined Hezbollah in 1987 as a scout. “Israel will never leave us alone.”
Military sources close to Hezbollah said that the group wanted to increase the number and effectiveness of its air defence systems. Hezbollah is believed to have acquired large numbers of SA18 shoulder-fired missiles that could mount a challenge to Israeli helicopters and low-flying jets. Western intelligence sources told The Times that Hezbollah fighters were receiving training in Syria on the SA8 system. The radar-guided SA8 missiles are launched from tracked vehicles and have a maximum altitude of 36,000ft (11,000m), which would pose a serious threat. Israeli jets and drones use Lebanese airspace almost daily. Israel said that the flights were necessary for reconnaissance purposes, although the UN considered them violations of Resolution 1701.
Israel said that Hezbollah’s acquisition of advanced anti-aircraft missiles could prompt a military response to destroy the systems. Israeli warnings relayed to Syria appear to have forestalled the entry of the SA8 system into Lebanon, the sources said.
Israel claims that Hezbollah has tripled the number of surface-to-surface rockets since 2006, to about 40,000.
“Hezbollah has not only replaced the munitions but upgraded their missiles,” Danny Ayalon, the Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister, said. “They are bragging now that they can hit Tel Aviv.”
According to Western intelligence sources, Hezbollah hopes to receive an improved version of the Iranian-manufactured Fateh-110 rocket, which can carry a 1,100lb (500kg) warhead more than 125 miles (200km).
Hezbollah officials refused to provide details on its military build-up but they did not deny that they were prepared for another war.
“Hezbollah today is in a better condition than it was in July 2006,” said Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, in an interview with The Times. “And if the Israelis think they will cause more damage against us, they know that we also can inflict more damage on them.”
Next, Stratfor on current Hizbulah, Israeli, Iranian, ‘Palistinian’ tensions:
August 4, 2009
Israeli Information and Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein said recent comments by members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party that they will continue to support the armed struggle against Israel are “a declaration of war,” Xinhua reported Aug. 4. Edelstein, a member of the Likud party, said the Israeli government must not act as if it had not heard the comments.
Israel: Preparations and Challenges for a Strike
August 4, 2009 | 1622 GMT
The Israeli Defense Ministry has ordered 100 laser-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition kits from the United States, the Jerusalem Post reported Aug. 3. Defense ministry officials report that the order was placed earlier this summer. While no delivery date has been specified, the new kits offer some tactical benefit, but do not alter the underlying geographic and strategic challenges that face Israel in carrying out airstrikes against Iran.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) placed an order for laser-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (LJDAMs) earlier this summer, the Jerusalem Post reported Aug. 3, citing Israeli Defense Ministry officials. Although the precise delivery schedule has not been reported, the IAF is to acquire some 100 LJDAM kits, which are designed to be fitted on conventional bombs in order to turn them into some of the most accurate munitions on the planet. But while such kits are extremely valuable in an air campaign, they do not alone give Israel the capability to attack Iran unilaterally.
With pressure intensifying in the lead-up to a September deadline set by the G-8 for Iran to demonstrate cooperation on its nuclear program, and Hezbollah growing increasingly anxious over a potential Israeli attack, the timing of this report is notable. LJDAM kits are extremely valuable in air campaigns — such as one directed against moving Hezbollah targets in Lebanon — but could also prove useful in a coordinated air campaign with the United States against Iran.
The LJDAM combines the GPS-guidance unit of earlier JDAMs with a precision laser guidance capability that can work in conjunction with laser designators either mounted on the aircraft or used by troops on the ground. (Israel currently only fields separate GPS and laser-guidance kits, meaning that a plane has to be fitted with both to have the flexibility the LJDAM offers.) LJDAM kits have been in use by the U.S. Air Force for more than a year now, including successful use in combat. Such combined guidance capability is particularly attractive for engaging moving targets (one test from a naval aircraft was able to destroy a target traveling at 85 mph). Furthermore, LJDAM-guided weapons are useful for engaging targets that can only be identified by ground troops or aircraft pilots in the area just prior to the actual strike (e.g. a group of Hezbollah fighters launching artillery rockets).
Presently, the principal military concern for Israel is Iran. This concern is intertwined with the problem of Hezbollah on its northern border and Iranian support for Hamas in the Gaza Strip. 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 southern Lebanon scenario targeting Hezbollah fighters and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers operating in Lebanon. In southern Lebanon in 2006 and again in the Gaza Strip in 2009, the IAF used JDAMs extensively for targeting everything from Hezbollah safe-houses in downtown Beirut to smuggling tunnels along the Gaza border with Egypt.
LJDAMs would also have some utility in a military scenario against Iran. Such precision ordnance is a precious commodity in any major air campaign, and with matters so unclear in Tehran at this point, it is hardly surprising to see Israel bulking up its stockpile of precision ordnance by acquiring the latest LJDAMs.
But while the LJDAMs will offer the IAF some improved tactical capabilities, they do not alone alter the underlying geographic and strategic issues that confront the Israeli state in carrying out a strike on Iran. The range and complexity of the air campaign itself mean that an air campaign carried out in coordination with the United States would likely be significantly more comprehensive and more effective — something Israel wants. Israel quite simply cannot afford damaged relations with the United States by carrying out a unilateral strike with Iran that would shutter the Strait of Hormuz and send oil prices soaring (something Israel does not have the naval capability to counter itself), essentially leaving the United States stuck dealing with the problem. In addition, it would be difficult to hide the fact that an airstrike is being prepared — much less executed — from Washington, and even Israel with its significant intelligence capabilities would likely seek maximum intelligence sharing on the target set with its closest ally.
With Tehran in political turmoil and the United States heavily emphasizing a September deadline for Iran to come to the negotiating table, tensions are naturally escalating in the region. STRATFOR has been closely tracking a number of corresponding war indicators, and given the current threat environment, it is hardly surprising to see Israel bulking up its stockpile of precision ordnance by acquiring the latest LJDAMs. Israel’s potential use of these kits in Lebanon or Iran is not mutually exclusive, either. Iranian reprisal for a military strike will include Tehran pulling at the strings of its militant proxy Hezbollah. To preempt a major threat on its northern frontier, Israel could also carry out a limited military campaign against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon as a precursor to an attack on Iran.