Hezbollah Missile Strikes Navy Warship; Four Killed

The Israel Navy warship damaged on Friday night 16 kilometers off the Lebanese coast was hit by a missile fired by the Hezbollah. Four members of the crew were missing immediately after the attack, but later the body of First Sergeant Tal Amgar, 21, from Ashdod, was recovered in the rear of the ship. There was a complement of 80 officers and men on the ship, some from non-Navy units.

Navy sources said yesterday that it is likely that the bodies of the three missing men are also in the rear of the ship. The three missing men are Sergeant Yaniv Hershkowitz, 21, of Haifa; Corporal Shai Attias, 19, of Rishon Letzion; and First Staff Sergeant Dov Steinschuss, 37, of Carmiel.

The incident occured close to 8 P.M., west of Beirut, when the INS Spear, a Saar-5 Class destroyer, was on patrol as part of the naval blockade imposed on Lebanon since Wednesday.

The Saar-5 class is equipped with very advanced defensive systems. However, these were not in operation at the time of attack, partly because of the number of IAF aircraft operating in the area. It was feared that if the system was in operation, it would mistakenly identify friendly aircraft as enemy targets and engage them.

The Navy has already issued new orders to its vessels operating off Lebanon.

The missile struck the vessel near its helicopter landing pad at the rear of the ship. A large explosion caused the landing pad to cave in and be engulfed in flames that threatened the aviation fuel storage below.

The blaze and the darkness made it difficult to discern the nature of the attack and the missing soldiers. Repeated count of the crew showed that four were missing. Only later was one body discovered in the rear of the ship.

Initial assessment held that the ship had been struck by an unmanned aerial vehicle loaded with explosives. However, later in the night it became clear that a missile had hit INS Spear.

The missile, is a C-802 radar-guided anti-shipping missile manufactured in Iran using Chinese technology. Its range is estimated to be about 110 km.

Apparently two such missiles were fired on Friday night, one of them hitting INS Spear and the other a Cambodian-flagged freighter, 60 km off shore. A dozen Egyptian sailors from the freighter were picked up by another commercial vessel after their ship sunk following the missile strike.

According to Brigadier General Noam Feig, head of the naval shipyards, the Saar-5 crew "fought the flames and managed to regain self-propulsion. For a while the ship had lost some of its ability to maneuver."

Close to midnight the ship made its way to port where its rudders were repaired.

IDF sources said yesterday that Iran transfered the C-802 missiles to Hezbollah, although intelligence officers noted that they were not sure whether Iranian advisers were involved in the launching of the missiles.

Brigadier Feig said that the Navy had no intelligence that such missiles were in the Hezbollah arsenal. "We were under the impression that we were operating beyond the range of missiles," he said.

In response to the attack, naval and air forces destroyed radar stations belonging to the Lebanese army. IDF sources said that the Lebanese army radar took part in the attack against INS Spear.

The head of operations at the General Staff, Major General Gadi Eisenkot, said yesterday that the IDF would attack Lebanese army positions only if they attacked IDF forces.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah announced the strike on the Saar-5 ship immediately after it was carried out, in a telephone interview to Hezbollah television station Al Manar.

"You asked for total war, you will get total war to Haifa and beyond... and the surprises I mentioned have already began," he said in the interview.