Iran gives Hezbollah precision-guided terrorism

The war between Israel and the Iranian-controlled Hezbollah terrorist network is continuous. It has flared into major conflicts several times since 1982.

The last round was fought for 34 days in 2006. Though Israel has prevailed in these conflicts, it has never truly succeeded in preventing Iran from rebuilding and rearming Hezbollah nor deterring Hezbollah from new rounds of war.

In late August, when an Israeli drone exploded near a Hezbollah office in Lebanon, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said the incident was an act of war. In response, Israel accused Hezbollah of accelerating the conversion of many of its crude missiles into precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and urged the Lebanese government to prevent Hezbollah from doing so and thus converting much of its arsenal to vastly more effective weapons.

Mr. Aoun has no power to do either because Hezbollah is a far greater political force in Lebanon than is his government and because Hezbollah answers only to the ayatollahs.

Hezbollah is believed to possess at least 130,000 rockets and missiles of various types. Many are the crude Katyusha-type rockets that Hezbollah often fires into Israel. It also possesses hundreds of more sophisticated short-range ballistic missiles that can be targeted with considerable accuracy.

Israel relies on its two anti-missile systems, Arrow and David’s Sling, to create its famous “Iron Dome,” protecting it from missile attacks. But, like any such systems, they can be overwhelmed if the enemy launches large numbers of rockets and missiles at once. Iran and Hezbollah have evidently embarked on a change in tactics aimed to do exactly that.

Iran has been building military bases and missile factories in Syria, close to Israel, for at least two years, and as usual building up Hezbollah’s capabilities at the same time. The tactical shift now obviously seeks the means of overwhelming Israeli missile defenses with newly-converted PGMs.

PGMs have been an important element of the American arsenal since the early 1990s. Their precision is enabled by guidance systems that home in on laser designators to hit within inches or rely on guidance from global positioning satellites and inertial navigation. These weapons provide an enormous advantage over “dumb bombs” because one relatively small missile or bomb can be relied on to destroy a target while a salvo of “dumb bombs” might not.

Our forces use PGMs to lessen collateral damage, including non-combatant casualties. But Hezbollah always intends the opposite, intentionally targeting civilians.

Launched in sufficient numbers to overcome missile defenses, PGMs of various ranges and payloads could give Hezbollah a precision attack capability it now lacks even with its more sophisticated missiles. With PGMs, Hezbollah could destroy key Israeli government buildings, inflict great casualties on Israeli reserves while they are assembled, and could even inflict great damage and disruption on Israel’s air forces.

In short, though Israel would likely prevail in the next round of war with Hezbollah the outcome would be very much in doubt. The principal question is whether Iran will believe — now or before 2021 — that a new Israel-Hezbollah war is in its best interest.

Iran knows that as long as President Trump is in office, we will support Israel to whatever degree necessary, intervening militarily if Israel were in real danger of defeat. Iran, others of our “allies” and adversaries, may be betting that Mr. Trump will be defeated in 2020 and that any Democrat successor would certainly be much weaker in Israel’s defense. It is equally likely that Iran’s internal politics demands a war before this year ends.

Hezbollah has often bragged that its longer-range missiles can hit Tel Aviv. Some could penetrate the “Iron Dome” defenses especially if their launch is coordinated with a mass launch of newly-created PGMs. If Iran launches Hezbollah into another round of war, the casualties inflicted on and damage to both sides will be enormous.

In recent weeks, Hezbollah has been conducting attacks such as firing anti-tank missiles into Israel. Its leader, Hassan Nasrullah, has said that it will attack deep into Israel and has “no red lines.” Israel has, so far, acted with restraint. When anti-tank rockets were fired into Israel during the Labor Day weekend, the Israelis responded proportionally with artillery strikes.

The Israelis’ greatest disadvantage comes from the fact that Hezbollah, like its terrorist cousins, hides and moves its weapons around in civilian homes, schools and mosques. As good as the Israeli intelligence services are, they can’t reliably locate enough of them to make pre-emptive strikes effective enough to prevent the mass launch of Hezbollah’s rockets and missiles.

Iran could decide to launch another war between Israel and Hezbollah reasoning that Israel’s scheduled general election on Sept. 17 would make it more vulnerable than usual.

Iran could calculate that the political convulsions caused by another Israel-Hezbollah war would disrupt that election sufficiently to cause the defeat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been Iran’s strongest opponent. Mr. Netanyahu, a strong ally of President Trump, has — since 2015 — been the strongest voice against Iran’s nuclear weapons program and former President Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with the ayatollahs.

It’s maddening that we have no way to influence Iran’s decisions other than increasing economic sanctions against it. At some point, perhaps when Iran orders Hezbollah to war, we will have to conclude that economic sanctions just aren’t enough.

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