Tehran's role is extensive
Well-placed sources in Israel argue that Iran is behind the decision to attack Israel and that Tehran influenced the timing of the Hezbollah attack in which two soldiers were abducted last Wednesday. Iran is Hezbollah's main arms supplier, including long-range rockets and missiles of the kind that struck an Israeli destroyer and sunk a Cambodian freighter on Friday night. This in addition to massive transfers of cash.
The arms supply is passing through Syria, and Damascus also extends its support to Hezbollah, though Iran leads the effort against Israel. Intelligence assessments in Israel hold that Iranian officers were responsible and took active part in the launching of missiles against the Israeli warship and the Cambodian freighter. The Chinese-made missile, C-807, has been in the Revolutionary Guards' arsenal for some years.
The Navy was surprised by the existence of such missiles in the Hezbollah arsenal, and failed to counter the attack. As a result of the IDF's intensifying operations in Lebanon, Tehran ordered most of its people operating in Lebanon to leave. Some advisers, all members of the Revolutionary Guard remain. These are mainly responsible for instruction in the use of long-range rockets, the operation of Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicles and also in planning and combat operations training.
No direct threat
What distinguishes Iran from all the participants in this conflict is that it is the only one not menaced by direct military threat. It is believed Iran influenced the timing of the attack to divert international attention from the pressure on Tehran to cease its uranium enrichment program, a matter that is likely to be brought before the UN Security Council in the future.
From the Hezbollah perspective, the timing of the attack suits its assessment that the only way it can reclaim a central political position in Lebanon, following a drop in its popularity, is through the challenge of a military confrontation with Israel.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, assumed Israel's response would be of the moderate sort like that following the withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000. Soon after the abduction, Hezbollah officers turned to UNIFIL and suggested a cease-fire as early as that evening. The Israeli response has come as a surprise to Hezbollah and Iranian advisers.
Most of the rockets Hezbollah holds come from Iran, but Syria has given them rockets of 220mm caliber with 45kg warheads. The range of the Syrian rockets is similar to those of the Iranian Fajr-5, approximately 70 kms.
According to reports, the Iranians have also provided Hezbollah with Zelzal rockets, capable of striking Ashkelon.
Despite air force strikes with precision munitions against hidden storage places of Hezbollah rockets, it is clear there are many still at large. Israel is ensuring that resupplying of Hezbollah with rockets will not be permitted, and unlike the past, force will be used.
Hezbollah avoided using long-range rockets yesterday, but it may do so in the future. Israel's reaction will respond by stepping up its attacks, including targets it has so far avoided, such as power plants.