JERUSALEM - With Iranian backing, Hezbollah guerrillas have dramatically increased their rocket range and now threaten most of Israel, according to senior Israeli defense officials.
The Lebanon-based militant group has acquired new Iranian rockets with a range of around 300 kilometers (185 miles), the officials said. That means the guerrillas can strike anywhere in Israel's heavily populated center and reach as far south as Dimona, where Israel's nuclear reactor is located.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge the confidential intelligence assessment to the media.
When Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006, Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets into Israel. The longest-range rockets fired during the war, which Israel said were Iranian-made, hit some 70 kilometers (45 miles) inside Israel.
While Israel's air force managed to take out most of the group's long-range rockets during the first days of the conflict, the military failed throughout the war to halt the short range rocket fire that paralyzed northern Israel and killed 40 Israeli civilians.
After the war, the United Nations dispatched a peacekeeping force meant to distance Hezbollah from the border and prevent the group from rearming.
Israel says that since the war Hezbollah's Iranian and Syrian patrons have steadily provided the group with large amounts of rockets, many of them capable of hitting central Israel. However, it has not provided any of the evidence for its claims.
Hezbollah and UN peacekeeping officials were not immediately available for comment on the latest Israeli claims Thursday.
Hezbollah declined comment Thursday. Yasmina Bouzian, a spokeswoman for the UN peacekeepers, said the international forces had seen no sign or had any report of movement of weapons in south Lebanon. "We have no reports of new weapons," she said.
Iranian officials were not available for comment. Iran has never admitted arming Hezbollah, saying its support for the group is limited to civil and humanitarian aid.
The defense officials did not say how many of the new rockets Hezbollah has obtained. But Israeli officials have said that overall, Hezbollah now has many more rockets in its arsenal than the 14,000 it had before the conflict - likely more than double that number.
In early March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported Israeli claims that Hezbollah's arsenal includes 10,000 long-range rockets and 20,000 short-range rockets in southern Lebanon.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now