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Thursday, 8 July 2010

Israel Takes Intelligence Gamble on Hezbollah

AOL NEWS, Thursday July 8

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
JERUSALEM (July 8) -- In a rare and risky maneuver, the Israeli military has made public detailed intelligence on Hezbollah's military deployment in southern Lebanon, including data, maps and surveillance photographs.

Military chiefs say the material amounts to proof of a massive build-up of Hezbollah firepower in Lebanese villages close to Israel's northern border. Analysts suggest that Israel has displayed its intelligence in a bid to forestall any Hezbollah plans for an attack.

Israel also named the top Iranian commander in Lebanon as Hossein Mahadavi, a senior officer of the Al-Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Israeli intelligence identified Mahadavi as "commander of Iran's overseas division" in charge of liaison between Tehran and Hezbollah.

By revealing such detailed intelligence data, Israel risks exposing its sources and giving Hezbollah clues on how best to redeploy its forces to new positions.

Several Lebanese citizens have been arrested in recent months and charged with spying for Israel.

Israel and Hezbollah last went to war in July 2006 after Hezbollah launched a cross-border raid in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two others kidnapped. The bodies of the missing solders were exchanged two years later for Samir Quntar, a Palestinian Liberation Front gunman from Lebanon convicted of killing three Israelis in a 1979 attack.

Now there are fears that growing tensions along the Lebanese border could spark a repeat of that monthlong conflict, in which more than 1,100 Lebanese and 159 Israelis were killed as Israeli troops invaded southern Lebanon and Hezbollah rained up to 300 rockets a day on northern Israel.

Israel says that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war and banned the transfer of rockets and weapons to Hezbollah, has been largely ineffective.

France has demanded a Security Council debate after French troops in the UNIFIL peacekeeping force were attacked, beaten and disarmed by villagers on July 3.

Israeli intelligence says the Shiite group now has thousands of fighters deployed along the border and an arsenal of more than 40,000 rockets supplied via Syria and Iran that could strike deep inside Israel -- even as far as Tel Aviv.

In a highly unusual on-record briefing, Col. Ronen Marley, commander of the Western Brigade on Israel's tense northern border, told reporters that "Hezbollah is establishing itself with increasing strength in the villages. Every day they are collecting significant intelligence on our forces along the border and every day they are engaged in digging, building and laying communications infrastructure to prepare themselves for war."

As an example, he produced aerial photographs taken by Israeli spy drones of Al-Khiam, a complex used as a detention camp during Israel's 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that is now home to 23,000 people.

One building, marked in red on the photograph and highlighted with a large "X" in an extraordinary 3-D graphic that could have come from an arcade video game, is identified by the Israelis as a weapons storage facility located less than 150 yards from a school.



Marley revealed previously classified photographs to show what he said was a unit of 90 Hezbollah militants operating in Al-Khiam. He said more than 200 rockets were stored in the village.

He said Hezbollah had transformed more than 100 villages in the border area into "military bases" in preparation for an Israeli attack.

"By declassifying the intelligence, Israel is preparing the world," Jerusalem Post security analyst Yaakov Katz told Sky News. "It is to get the world to realize what will happen if there is a war. If there is a war there will be large-scale civilian casualties and vast devastation."

But Gerald Steinberg, head of the Project on Conflict Resolution at Bar Ilan University, says Israel's aim is deterrence, not aggression.

"I don't think Israel has any interest in launching a war against Hezbollah -- just the opposite," Steinberg said, recalling that Israeli commanders had held a series of similar briefings in early 2006, in which they analyzed the rocket threat from Lebanon and laid out Israel's battle plan should Hezbollah dare to attack.

"Hezbollah failed to understand that message, and when it launched an unprovoked attack across the border in July 2006, the Israeli army unleashed the battle plan it had previewed," Steinberg said. "Later, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah admitted that if he had heeded Israel's warnings, he would not have started that war. This time, it looks like Israel is determined to dissuade Hezbollah from using its huge rocket arsenal again, and so the Israelis are sending this very clear deterrent message."

Hezbollah has not commented on the Israeli military's statements. Earlier this week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat that there would be no war between Israel and Lebanon "as long as there has not been any operation to launch missiles or cross the border."

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