Israel's armed forces are on a high war alert on two fronts – its southern border with the Gaza Strip and its northern borders with Lebanon and Syria. Iran is deeply involved in both.
Tuesday, Feb. 3, defense minister Ehud Barak inspected the Israeli Defense Forces' northern command the day after a similar visit to the south to make sure the units deployed on the Gaza border stood ready for the breakdown of Hamas-Egyptian negotiations in Cairo for a long-term truce.
Wednesday, those negotiations broke down, raising the war tension to a new pitch.
A flare-up on either front would be Israel's third in as many years and the second this year as it prepares for a general election next Tuesday. Tehran's hand is visible in them all.
The northern front may be even more inflammable than the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military experts. During his northern tour Barak said enigmatically: “I am warning everyone: Don't let Hizballah have balance-breaking weapons.”
Our sources report he was referring to one of Hizballah's motives for raring to go against Israel – a promised influx of a powerful new weapon; the second motivation is revenge.
1. By the second half of January, Hizballah stood ready for an intake from Iran and Syria of scores of its first mobile air defense missile system incorporating its own engagement radars on a single vehicle – the Russian-made SA-8 Gecko Osa 9K33. All versions of the 9K33 version feature all-in-one 9A33 TELAR vehicles which can detect, track and engage aircraft independently or with the aid of regimental surveillance radars.
In Hizballah's hands, this weapon would seriously endanger any Israeli air movements over Lebanon, including its reconnaissance flights.
Israel cannot let SA-8 missiles reach Hizballah from Syria
Jerusalem has in the last two weeks cautioned Syrian president Bashar Assad, in messages relayed through Washington and Ankara, that if the SA-8 missiles begin moving towards the Lebanese border, Israel will not hesitate to strike the four Syria military facilities where they are parked ready to drive across, as well as the bases prepared for their deployment in Lebanon.
Neither Damascus nor Hizballah has replied or indicated a change of plan.
The SA-8 system's features would not only dangerously retilt Hizballah's balance of strength with Israel, but skew the internal balance of force in Lebanon. Possession of the SA-8 would endow Hizballah with total military superiority over the Lebanese army and UNIFIL contingents in the south.
Hizballah crews have been training in their use for the last six months in Iran and Syria. Under expert Iranian and Syrian guidance, Hizballah has marked their future locations in Lebanon and declared them closed military areas.
The SA-8 is a low-altitude, single-stage surface-to-air missile dependent on command guidance of the LAND Roll radar which can pick up targets at 30 km and begin tracking them at 20-25 km.
Two separate missile guidance radars are used (with offset frequencies to reduce the effectiveness of Electronic Counter Measures (ECM), so that if one is jammed or shut down, the SA-8 can track targets optically. The SA-8 is armed with a 19-kilo fragmentation warhead with contact and proximity detonation capability.
An SA-8 battery consists of two launch vehicles, each armed with 6 missiles and two transload vehicles with 18 missile reloads. The lethal radius of the SA-8 at low altitude is 5 meters.
It is highly mobile, fully amphibious, air transportable and can be relocated to a new site within four minutes from system shutdown.
Hizballah impatient to avenge Mughniyeh's death
If those missiles were allowed to cross into Lebanon, they would make Hizballah the first terrorist organization in the world with an independent air defense weapon system.
And that is not all. The integration of the SA-8 batteries with the C-802 shore-to-ship missiles (of which Hizballah has taken delivery of more than 1,000), when deployed along the Lebanese Mediterranean coast would sharply inhibit the movements of the US Sixth Fleet.
2. Hizballah is impatient to exact revenge for the death of its military commander Imad Mugnniyeh and blames Israel for killing him in Damascus a year ago.
Its terrorist and intelligence networks in North and South America, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, Africa and Central Asia have been told to go into action. They have started fielding operational cells, some sleepers, for spectacular terrorist attacks on Israeli or Jewish targets in their vicinity.
Hizballlah raised the chances of a hit by sending 10 terrorist teams out from Lebanon to seven European countries on Jan. 15, as backup for the cells in situ.
Hizballah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is dreaming of at least one attack on the scale of the Mumbai terror assault of November 2008 which left at least 163 people dead.
Their instructions are brutal. The teams trained specifically for the takeover of Israeli embassy buildings and Israeli and Jewish institutions and companies are ordered to seize staff and murder them all on the Mumbai model. The same fate will be meted out to captured groups of Israeli tourists.
First terror attack foiled in Turkey
Last week, Israel's security and intelligence agencies found evidence of the scale of violence Hizballah had in store when the Mossad and Shin Bet collaborating with Turkish security services foiled a series of coordinated attacks.
The takeover of the Israeli embassy was to have been the signal for Turkish extremist Islamic groups to hurl into action for strikes at Israeli and Jewish locations in Ankara and Istanbul, as well as the hotels in Antalya and southern Turkey frequented by Israeli tourists.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources, intelligence has been received of Hizballah's plans to execute terrorist attacks on the same scale inside Israel.
The Shiite terrorist group's tacticians are trying to camouflage its plans and operations to obscure leads to Hizballah command centers in Lebanon and avoid provoking a full-blown war in retaliation. They copied this trick from al Qaeda. Nonetheless, Jerusalem has forewarned the Obama administration that the Israeli military will strike back at Hizballah's command centers and strongholds across Lebanon, should Hizballah manage to defeat heightened Israeli vigilance and pull off a terrorist plot.