The Lebanese Shiite terrorist militia has undergone a transformation. From a tunnel-and-bunker outfit, it has reorganized its 25,000 armed fighters into rapid deployment units trained in commando combat. The new force is one fifth larger than the militia which fought Israel in the summer of 2006.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources also report that Iran is building for the revamped force a secluded network of 1,000 kilometers of fast new roads across Lebanon, some of them four-lane highways.
Military routes to all intents and purpose, they will be closed to civilian traffic in emergencies.
In Beirut, meanwhile, Hizballah continues to buttress the chain of fortified positions linking downtown to the southern Shiite districts. It is also expanding its independent telephone system in the capital and the South – up to the Beqaa Valley in the east.
Our military sources report that both the telephone network and the new highway system are designed for the exclusive use of the Hizballah military, independently of Lebanon’s national infrastructure.
Western military experts say that both American and Israeli army and intelligence chiefs have been taken aback by the speed of the Shiite terrorist militia’s recovery in just over a year from the Lebanon War. They never predicted the rise of a trained, skilled and augmented army on the scale achieved.
The new fast highway system built by Iran that will soon crisscross the country is equally troubling.
Essentially three main highways with subsidiaries, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources map out the network here for the first time.
One highway will link the southern Mediterranean port town of Tyre with Marjayun at the foot of Mt. Hermon in the east.
A second will follow the northern bank of the Litani River up to Nabatiya, whence another new road will head north to Baalbek, Hizballah’s main bastion in eastern Lebanon.
A third fast highway will run from Baalbek to the northern Beqaa Valley, ending at the Syrian border.
Three fast highways, 120 branch roads
US and Israeli surveillance chiefs suspect this third route has been built to carry men and equipment from Syria into Lebanon in wartime.
More than 120 narrow side roads branch off from the three highways.
They lead to villages or dead ends atop hills commanding the highways. Surveillance of some of those roads showed them ending at sites where Iranians are building military fortifications, bunkers and reinforced concrete ramps, which look like missile sites.
All these developments have led US strategists to start thinking of Lebanon in terms of a confrontation state in the war on terror and to draw a line there against Iran’s regional expansion.
DEBKA-net-Weekly‘s Washington sources disclose some of the counter-measures the Bush administration is undertaking at this time.
Washington has boosted its military spending in Lebanon up to nearly $300 by the end of 2007plus an estimated $100-150 million of Central Intelligence Agency funding.
Our intelligence sources disclose that President George W. Bush has signed a Presidential Directive empowering the CIA to expand its operations in Lebanon and finance Lebanese organizations willing to stand up to Hizballah and fight expanded Iranian and Syrian influence in their country.
The presidential directive limits funding to organizational and propaganda purposes in order to prevent the spy agency’s entanglement in their operations. All of them run militias, paramilitary forces or private security outfits manned by dozens or up to 100 armed personnel each.
The directive seeks to keep the lid on the security situation in Lebanon so that it does not escalate to the point that US military engagement is called for.
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources disclose that, while the CIA has trebled in manpower in Lebanon in the last two months, it has no way of tracking every cent those anti-Hizballah organizations are spending. Inevitably, some American dollars are diverted to arms acquisitions, recruitment and training.
Re-enter Imad Mughniyeh
A senior Lebanese security official confirms that US agents are not involved in operational activity. “However, when necessary,” he admits, “the Americans in Syria and Lebanon work through French intelligence services, or else Saudi and Egyptian services present in Beirut.”
All things considered, there are no real bars to the CIA’s Beirut operations.
Also deeply involved in Lebanon are the US CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon and his staff.
Today, all the planning of Lebanese army and intelligence operations falls under the “Lebanese Department” of the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, South Florida.
For the past four months, Adm. Fallon has been under White House orders to keep a personal eye on events in Lebanon.
He took a hand in crushing the Fatah al-Islam revolt against the Lebanese army in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli a month ago. He has since embarked on the fashioning of a new Lebanese army (as DEBKA-Net-Weekly 318 first revealed on Sept. 21, 2007). He will soon visit Lebanon to size up progress, as President Bush assured the Lebanese anti-Syrian majority leader, Saad Hariri when he visited the White House on Oct. 4.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources point out that the United States is confronted in Lebanon today with the same enemy, the super-terrorist and abductor, Hizballah’s Imad Mughniyeh, who plagued US forces in the country 28 years ago.
Mughniyeh has eluded every American effort to capture him; and, whenever a US government faces key strategic decision-making in its war on Middle East terror, the mysterious Mughniyeh stands in its path.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he held the dubious distinction of being the first Islamist (Shiite) terrorist to abduct and execute American hostages.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, he liaised between Tehran and al Qaeda, having won the trust of both radically anti-West jihadist entities. The exact nature of his links with al Qaeda is a riddle, but he is believed to be an important repository of Iran’s secret exchanges with Osama bin Laden.
In the autumn of 2003, Mughniyeh turned up in Iraq with his staff and, six months after the American invasion, established an efficient supply system of weapons and arms from Syria to Iraq, and a network of Shiite militias and terrorist cells in Iraq. He also planted Hizballah units in the embattled country.
Iran can operate in Lebanon independent of Hizballah
This year, just when President Bush put Adm. Fallon in charge of the military effort to stabilize Lebanon, Iran’s supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei placed Mughniyeh in the forefront of the anti-Western campaign to crush that effort.
The command of Hizballah’s fighting force was taken out of the hands of Hassan Nasrallah and relegated to Mughniyeh, who answers directly to the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Ali Jaafri.
Nasrallah, stripped of his command, harped on the telltale phrase: “But I am no longer in the picture,” in a speech he made on Oct. 16 – the first public intimation of his demotion.
Now, with the new reconstructed and equipped Hizballah force and an exclusive highway network at his disposal, it is feared that Mughniyeh will replicate in Lebanon the terrorist-guerrilla machine battling Americans in Iraq.
His targets will be any foreign elements in the country as well as pro-Western Lebanese army units sworn to fend off Iranian and Syrian influence. Hizballah is now equipped to strike American targets by land and sea with ground-to-ship missiles and fast boats packed with explosives, while at the same time launching commando raids deep inside Israel.
Mughniyeh’s appointment provides cover for Iran to operate freely in Lebanon, independently of Hizballah. The 1,000 kilometers of Lebanese highways are marked out as Iranian property. Signs set times and dates for access by civilian motorists, and every few yards, large placards of heads of the Iranian regime including top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards look down from both sides of the road, driving home the message of who is the boss.