BEIRUT: Hezbollah has been moving long-range missiles to Lebanon from bases where it had stored them inside Syria, the New York Times quoted an Israeli security analyst as saying in a report published Thursday.
The report quoted Ronen Bergman, an analyst with close contacts with Israeli intelligence officials, as saying that despite Israel’s undeclared campaign of airstrikes in Syria to stop new deliveries, most of the long-range surface-to-surface missiles given to Hezbollah by its allies Iran and Syria have been disassembled and moved to Lebanon.
The paper also quoted a U.S. official as saying American intelligence analysts have also concluded that Hezbollah members are smuggling components of advanced Russian-made anti-ship missile systems piecemeal into Lebanon from Syria to avoid an Israeli air campaign.
The official, the report added, said as many as 12 Russian-made anti-ship cruise missile systems may now be in Hezbollah’s possession inside Syria.
Hezbollah has smuggled at least some components from those systems into Lebanon within the past year but did not as yet have all the parts needed there, the American official said.
The New York Times said the transfers were first reported Thursday night by The Wall Street Journal, which quoted U.S. officials as saying parts of an antiship missile system had already been moved to Lebanon, and that other systems which could target Israeli aircraft, ships and bases were being stored in expanded weapons depots under Hezbollah control in Syria.
Bergman said Hezbollah has a network of bases that were built inside Syria, near the border with Lebanon, to give the group strategic depth and to store the missiles.
But with a nearly three-year insurgency threatening President Bashar Assad, an ally of Hezbollah, keeping the missiles in Syria is no longer as secure, Bergman said.
The missiles being moved, he said, include Scud D’s, shorter-range Scud C’s, medium-range Fateh rockets that were made in Iran, Fajr rockets and shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft weapons.
Israel launched several air raids on Syria last year with the aim of destroying arms systems bound for Hezbollah. U.S. analysts later determined the strikes did not destroy all the missiles systems, the NYT said.
The daily said Israel was concerned that Hezbollah not acquire what it considers game-changing strategic weapons during the chaos unfolding in Syria.
Bergman said on the first day of the war between Lebanon and Israel in 2006, then Mossad chief Meir Dagan advised his government not to start an attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon without first hitting the Lebanese group’s bases in Syria, which were built on the strategy that Israel would not dare to strike Syria.
Bergman’s account, according to the paper, corroborated one given by a Syrian military officer in December 2012, at a time when rebels seemed to have momentum in their advances on Damascus.
The paper quoted the officer, who spoke over Skype from Damascus, as saying that he no longer supported the government and wanted to defect but was waiting for the right moment, in the meantime acting as an informant for the rebels.
He said government forces were dismantling strategic weapons and sending them to two locations “for safekeeping”: the coastal province of Tartous that the government holds and south Lebanon, where Hezbollah holds sway.
The weapons, he said, were being sent in tractor-trailers with coolers.
The officer, the report added, said his information came from another officer who was loyal to the government and with whom he had close relations, and from his own limited observations of the trucks being used to move the weapons.
After several contacts, the paper said the officer could no longer be reached and the information could not be verified.