The Iran Connection


Even as a ceasefire takes effect today between Israel and Hezbollah, both sides in this war are still fighting on a second front for public opinion. Ill look tomorrow at the back and forth over the latest Seymour Hersh New Yorker article, which says that Israel planned the warand informed Washingtonbefore its soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah.But lets look at the Iran connection. At least some U.S. intelligence officials are apparently backing Israels claim that Iran not only supplied funding and weapons to Hezbollah, but also sent advisors to Lebanon. As Aviation Week & Space Technology reports this week:

The Iranian government has a cadre of "hundreds" of technical advisers in Lebanon that trained, and continue to support, Hezbollah forces in the use of sophisticated anti-ship and anti-tank missiles and unmanned aircraft. No evidence has yet emerged, however, that the Iranians are actually operating any weaponry in the fighting, say U.S. officials."It's not just a matter of turning weapons over to Hezbollah," a U.S. intelligence official says. "They also have to provide the training [for such advanced weapons]." Other munitions possessed by Iran (particularly those bought from Russia) have not been used in the Lebanon/Israel conflict, because the provenance would be obvious and, in some cases, "the Iranians don't want to be associated with that," he says. Nonetheless, "there is evidence that Iranians are in the country training Hezbollah." They remain in Lebanon, but until late last week appeared to have avoided direct participation in combat.That situation may have changed, however, with the discovery of papers on the bodies of soldiers killed in Southern Lebanon on Aug. 9 that identified them as members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. "There's a possibility they could have been operating systems, but they weren't necessarily fighting. It could have been a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time," the intelligence official said."Despite a couple of reports that the Iranians were at the controls of rocket launchers in the early part of the conflict, that's not our conclusion," the U.S. intelligence official says. "The group was originally in the hundreds. We haven't seen any large numbers leave." The Iranian government denies that they have advisers or trainers in Lebanon. The U.S. State Dept. says the Iranians provide arms and funding, but won't answer questions about advisers. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sources put the number of advisers at about 100.U.S. ANALYSTS WON'T confirm that the Hezbollah UAV shot down in the Mediterranean by Israeli fighters last week was operated by Iranians or even Iranian-trained insurgents. But, obtaining the aircraft and learning how to launch and program its flight "would have taken outside help," the intelligence official says. Hezbollah's first recorded incursion into Israeli airspace with a UAV occurred in late 2004.International aerospace industry officials, without being specific, say that countries other than Iran are also working with various insurgent groups in the region, including Hezbollah. They point out Russian anti-aircraft missile sales to Syria and the Mar. 3 visit of a Hamas delegation to Moscow. U.S. intelligence analysts say Syria is supplying some arms to Hezbollah, but not at the level of Iran, nor does it appear to have training cadres in Lebanon. They contend that while Chinese weaponry is being used, it was either transferred in the 1990s or came from illegal sales through intermediaries. The U.S. recently announced a two-year trade sanction against arms trader Rosoboronexport for selling the TOR-M1 (SA-15 Gauntlet) air defense missile system to Iran. That move may backfire since Russian support is critical to U.N. approval of any U.S.-orchestrated cease-fire agreement in Lebanon.
Similarly, the Washington Post today quotes sources saying Hezbollahs strength relies in large part on Iranian funding. The article doesnt claim that Iran has advisors actually present in Lebanon:
The fighters' Islamic faith and intense indoctrination reduced their fear of death, he noted, giving them an advantage in close-quarters combat and in braving airstrikes to move munitions from post to post. Hezbollah leaders also enhanced fighters' willingness to risk death by establishing the Martyr's Institute, with an office in Tehran, that guarantees living stipends and education fees for the families of fighters who die on the front.The Hezbollah arsenal, which also included thousands of missiles and rockets to be fired against northern Israel's towns and villages, was paid for with a war chest kept full by relentless fundraising among Shiites around the world and, in particular, by funds provided by Iran, said the intelligence specialist. The amount of Iranian funds reaching Hezbollah was estimated at $25 million a month, but some reports suggested it increased sharply, perhaps doubled, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took over as president in Tehran last year, the specialist said.
Both articles quote unnamed specialists and intelligence officials, which doesnt mean theyre not accurate. But as with the Hersh article, they raise questions about how the press copes with information that cant be easily verified.-- Sharon Weinberger
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