French Newspaper Uncovers Routes Syria and Iran Use to Ship Missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon

Over the past year, international media outlets have published numerous reports on the upgrading of Hezbollah's high-trajectory missile capabilities and the increasing threat they pose against Israeli population centers.

Three separate Hezbollah units are responsible for moving rockets from Syria to Lebanon and deploying them at various sites operated by the group, the French daily Le Figaro reported Monday.

Over the past year, international media outlets have published numerous reports on the upgrading of Hezbollah's high-trajectory missile capabilities and the increasing threat they pose against Israeli population centers. So far, Kuwaiti newspapers have been publishing most of these reports, joined now by a French paper quoting government sources in Paris.

In its detailed report on Hezbollah's missile and rocket arrays, Le Figaro described a dramatic event that occured in January: "A warning signal flashed on American radar screens. The signal on the screen indicated preparations to move 26 M-600 rockets from Damascus to the Syria-Lebanon border. The rocket, manufactured in Syria, with a range of about 250 kilometers, were to have been given to Hezbollah in Lebanon, making strikes possible deep in Israeli territory."

The report did not say whether the missiles had actually been moved into Lebanon.

The past year has seen similar reports of the transfer of M-600 rockets as well as Scud missiles to Lebanon. In February, according to reports from Lebanon, some 40 Israeli fighter jets flew low one night over the Syrian border, and the Arab press was rife with various accounts of an Israeli move to halt the smuggling of the missiles.

According to Le Figaro, the Hezbollah unit moving the rockets is the 108 unit, which is the first link in the chain of rocket deployment. The task of the 108, whose main headquarters is in Damascus, is to ensure that the weapons move from storage sites throughout Syria to the Syria-Lebanon border.

The storage sites are divided into "regular stores" and "reserve stores." The regular sites are in the Syrian cities of Duma and Adra, near Damascus airport. Proximity to the airport is essential because most of the weapons from Iran arrive by plane. The reserve stores are in Aleppo, Homs and Tartus, Syria.

A few weeks ago, Avi Scharf reported in Haaretz on the presence of a Syrian and Hezbollah missile base in Adra, and published aerial photos of the site as they appeared on Google Earth.

The next link in the chain is Unit 112, which is responsible for supplying the weapons to Hezbollah storage sites in Lebanon and distributing them to the bases. The weapons usually arrive at the end of every month, taking advantage of regular electricity outages in Syria at these times.

The weapons are moved by trucks with bogus license plates. The 108 has flooded the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon with missiles and rockets.

At the missiles' final stop, two teams from the third unit, Unit 100, see to the deployment of Hezbollah fighters among the bases, and brings in Iranian experts and advisors via Damascus airport. Unit 100 organized and provided security for the return of Hezbollah fighters to Lebanon after joint training with Iran's Revolutionary Guards in Iran, during which Iranian Fateh-110 rockets (a type similar to the M-600 ) were fired.

The abundance of recent reports about Hezbollah is not accidental. It seems that Western intelligence agencies are pursuing a number of goals: to warn against Hezbollah's developing capabilities, a veiled threat against Syria so it will limit its involvement in weapons smuggling, and the preparation of international groundwork in case Israel decides to act against the weapons smuggling or the rocket array itself.

Recent months have seen rising tensions between Hezbollah and its adversaries in Lebanon, ahead of an announcement by the International Court in The Hague that it will be trying senior Hezbollah officials in the case of the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Such an announcement is expected in December.

One possibility is that Hezbollah might try to heat up the border with Israel to distract public discourse in Lebanon from the Hariri case.

According to Le Figaro, the array it described shows the strategic importance of Syria in Hezbollah's logistics. Sources in the French defense ministry told the daily that even if tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have declined since the Second Lebanon War, "the possibility cannot be discounted of Israeli action against the sites under the responsibility of Unit 108 in Syria."

According to one French expert, Iran has apparently formulated a plan to put the M-600 into operation, which is being carried out by Syria and Hezbollah. In recent years, Hezbollah has deployed long-range missiles and rockets north of the Litani River. "There, and not in south Lebanon, the organization has built its strategic sites," the expert said.

Over the past months, Hezbollah has rebuilt its launch sites for Iranian Fajar rockets, which have a range of 45 kilometers. Hezbollah has also completely upgraded its command and control system, and has dug tunnels along the border with Syria, between the cities of Baalbek and Hermel in Lebanon, to help forces to fall back in the case of renewed conflict with Israel.

Hezbollah has also built an independent underground communications system in the areas under its control, from the suburbs of south Beirut to the Bekaa Valley.

Le Figaro also reported that Hezbollah recently established its own naval commando unit.