Hezbollah youth holding Katyushas near Nasrallah portrait
Young Hezbollah supporters holding mock ups of Katyusha rockets in front of a portrait of group leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Photo by AP
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Syria has been arming and training Hezbollah fighters in the use of advanced antiaircraft weapons in recent months, Israel Defense Forces sources have told Haaretz. A senior officer in the Northern Command says hundreds of fighters were taught to use surface-to-air missiles in Syria and Iran.

IDF officers are worried by two developments involving Syria and Hezbollah that could change the balance of power in the region. The first is the transfer of huge quantities of surface-to-air missiles; the second, the transfer of chemical and biological weapons.

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IDF officers believe that Hezbollah use of advanced antiaircraft missiles could jeopardize Israeli aerial supremacy. "The potential of escalation in Lebanon is huge, and Hezbollah continues to strengthen with regard to long-range weaponry and potential 'surprises' on the battlefield," the senior officer said. "We will have to find answers to the transfer of antiaircraft weaponry, and chemical and biological weapons. It could be a cause to change Israel's retaliation policy," he added.

According to past, unverified, reports, Israel has considered on several occasions attacking convoys of weaponry from Syria to Lebanon. The senior officer says the Iranian involvement in Lebanon has transformed from a "fingerprint" to "a huge handprint."

The IDF points to a "regular transfer" of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah that began even before the rebellion against President Bashar Assad's government. Still, since Assad lost complete control, the weapon transfers have increased, and include drones and shore-to-ship missiles. "The more Assad loses his grip, the transfers will increase," the officer explained. "We're troubled by the transfer of strategic components from Syria to Lebanon, and if that happens, it might be cause for a more active response," he added.

According to IDF estimates, three Syrian battalions are in charge of operating SA-17s - relatively long-range advanced Russian antiaircraft missiles. The Air Force has already altered part of its activity on the northern border for fear of surface-to-air missiles. Syria also has a huge arsenal of long-range surface-to-surface missiles. The IDF is certain that Hezbollah, too, has hundreds of long-range missiles, including, among others, M600 missiles and Scud missiles.

Two months ago, Haaretz published the defense officials' fear that chemical weapons have reached Hezbollah. A senior officer in the General Staff estimated that Assad's regime would fall by the end of the year, and that these weapons would be kept by the regime until its fall, or be transferred to Hezbollah.

Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, head of plans and policy directorate, and the designated commander of the Air Force, has already said: "Our main worry is huge caches of chemical and biological weapons, and strategic abilities that still arrive in Syria, mostly from Eastern Europe."