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A senior Israel Air Force source on Monday told Haaretz that poor intelligence hurt Israel's efforts to stand up to the challenge of short-range Katyusha rockets in the Lebanon war.

"Undoubtedly, had the Israel Defense Forces complete intelligence on every movement in south Lebanon along the border, we could have prepared better and provide a better operational solution from the air and ground to the threat of short range Katyushas," the source said.

"This is something we will have to investigate," he added.

The source also said the IAF had significant success against mid- and long-range rockets, but poor results against the Katyushas.

According to him, Israel would have to study well the lessons learned in the war, in particular in relation to short range projectiles such as Katyusha and Qassam rockets - lessons that could also be relevant to the security situation in the West Bank.

The officer also indicated that the IAF received much superior intelligence to that provided to the ground forces, making it much more difficult to coordinate air support and rescue operations.

According to the officer, the IAF had up-to-date aerial photographs while brigade commanders in the field had photographs relevant for the years 2000 through 2002, and did not include the extensive construction in the years following.

MI knew about Hezbollah kidnap plansMilitary Intelligence had clear information about an impending kidnap attempt by Hezbollah shortly before the Lebanese group carried out its cross-border raid on July 12, according to an internal inquiry conducted by the Israel Defense Forces..

The information - which could, if properly handled, have prevented the kidnapping of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser - was not analyzed and passed on to the troops in time, the report indicated.

The IDF Spokesman's Office refused to either confirm or deny the report, saying that the issue is still being investigated by Military Intelligence (MI) and the Northern Command.

The inquiry into intelligence questions is being conducted by Brigadier General Avi Ashkenazi, appointed by out-going GOC Northern Command Udi Adam. Even though his investigation is not yet completed, he is slated to present his report to Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and other senior IDF officers this week.

The report will apparently focus solely on the events of July 12, and will not deal with previous, similar kidnapping incidents that were foiled.

If intelligence information was indeed mishandled, this would hardly be the first time such an event has ever occurred. Army sources cited the case of the glider-borne assault on northern Israel in 1987 when, due to an error by MI's signals intelligence unit - which misreported a key word as sayara (car in Arabic) rather than tayara (plane) - troops prepared for an attack by ground-based rather than aerial vehicles.

Similarly, America's National Security Agency taped crucial conversations by Al-Qaida members on September 10, 2001, but the conversations were only translated on September 12 - a day after Al-Qaida destroyed the World Trade Center towers in New York.

Supporting ground forces at the IAF's expenseMeanwhile, senior Israel Air Force officers warned on Sunday that an apparent move by the General Staff, the Defense Ministry and the government to invest more in ground forces at the expense of the IAF is liable to severely harm the IAF's preparedness for future wars.

The officers warned that the impending cuts could force the IAF to cut back on manpower and training, and perhaps even eliminate entire fighter squadrons.

Halutz, a former IAF commander, has said in the past that he would rather shut down a tank division than a fighter squadron, but the officers fear that the public backlash generated by the war may force him to abandon his prior stance.

According to the officers, the principle threats now facing Israel are Syria, which could view the outcome of the recent war as encouragement for attacking Israel in order to regain the Golan Heights; Iran, should it succeed in obtaining nuclear weapons; and Egypt, should President Hosni Mubarak be succeeded by a regime hostile to Israel.

Moreover, they said, Israel could face war on two or all of these fronts at once, requiring it to be able to shift forces quickly from one front to another.

The officers also claimed that ground troops might never be employed at all in wars against any of these countries. However, they added, if ground forces were employed, air force cover would be needed to give them freedom to maneuver.

The officers said that for Israel to retain air superiority over Arab and Muslim states, some of which are now being armed with the most advanced American weaponry, the IAF needs about 100 new planes a year.

In the coming decade, the IAF would like to acquire three or four squadrons of F-35 planes, the successor to the F-16, and a smaller number of F-22s, successor to the F-15, at a cost which may reach $200 million per plane.

While the IAF has been preparing for some time to defend Israel against Syria's network of Scud missiles, it fears that Hezbollah's success in launching thousands of short-range rockets - including some of Syrian manufacture - during the recent war might encourage Syria to make use of this arsenal, which numbers some 5,000 rockets.

Moreover, since Syria makes some of these rockets itself, it could replenish its supply even during wartime.

Thus far, Israel has detected no attempts by either Syria or Iran to replenish Hezbollah's rocket supply, but in such an event, the IAF would presumably be ordered to attack the shipments. It might also be ordered to attack Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah if he emerged from his bunker.

On the first day of the war, the officers said, intelligence agencies narrowed the search for Nasrallah to four buildings in Beirut. However, the government elected not to bomb them, for fear of causing hundreds of casualties and generating international pressure to stop the war before its goals had been achieved.