Judah Ari Gross — The Times of Israel July 9, 2017
The Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group is constructing at least two underground facilities in Lebanon for manufacturing missiles and other weaponry, according to a report by the French Intelligence Online magazine.
While reports of these subterranean weapons facilities have been published in Arab media outlets before, the Intelligence Online article included two previously unknown pieces of information: the type of weaponry being produced and the approximate locations of two of the factories.
Sources told the French industry magazine that one of the factories is being built in northern Lebanon, near the town of Hermel in the eastern Bekaa Valley. The second facility is reportedly being constructed along the southern coast, between the towns of Sidon and Tyre.
According to Intelligence Online, the Hermel facility is being used to produce the Fateh 110, a medium-range missile. The southern facility, meanwhile, will be used to make smaller munitions.
The Fateh 110 has a range of approximately 190 miles (300 kilometers) — enough to cover the majority of the State of Israel — and can carry a half-ton warhead. It is considered fairly accurate, though to what extent is a matter of debate, according to a US Congressional Research Service report.
Israel’s David’s Sling missile defense battery, which went operational in April, is meant to protect the Jewish state against medium range rockets like the Fateh 110.
In March, the Kuwaiti al-Jarida newspaper reported that Iran established multiple facilities some 50 meters below ground and protected them with multiple layers of defenses from potential Israeli aerial bombardment, citing an unnamed deputy head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Iranian general was quoted by al-Jarida as saying that the decision to produce rockets indigenously in Lebanon came after Israel bombed weapons factories in Sudan and supply routes for Iranian rockets via Syria.
The new factories would mark a dramatic upgrade in Hezbollah’s ability to acquire additional, and more precise, rockets than ever before.
Rockets produced by some of the new facilities have already been used by Hezbollah in battles in Syria, the Kuwaiti report said.
These latest developments highlight the depth of Iran’s involvement in Syria and Lebanon, something that both Israel and some Arab states have increasingly warned against in recent months.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said last week that Israel is in the midst of a major campaign to thwart attempts by Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah to arm themselves with increasingly accurate missiles.
Addressing the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, Eisenkot said that the primary concern for Israel is what he called the “accuracy project” — efforts by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah to equip themselves with accurate missiles.
“We are engaged in a whole campaign against the accuracy project and it is our top priority,” he noted.
Regarding the efforts by Hezbollah to obtain advanced rockets through Syria, Eisenkot said, “We are working all the time against the project with a wide variety of tools that it is best to keep quiet about, and with the aim of not causing a deterioration [in the situation].”
Eisenkot said “decreasing Iranian influence in the areas near Israel’s borders is no less important than defeating Islamic State, and for Israel perhaps even more.”
Earlier in the week, Defense Minister Avidgor Liberman issued a public warning to Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons over the development of rocket manufacturing installations inside Lebanon.
“We are fully aware” of the rocket factories, Liberman told military correspondents in a briefing in Tel Aviv. “We know what needs to be done… We won’t ignore the establishment of Iranian weapons factories in Lebanon.”
Last month, at the Herzliya Conference, IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi said that “Iran has been working for the past year to set up indigenous infrastructures for producing precise munitions both in Lebanon and Yemen. We can’t ignore that, and we won’t.”
On Wednesday, Eisenkot assured MKs that Israel’s military capability is the best it has ever been.
“The IDF has an operational intelligence capability that it has not had since its inception,” he said. “Eleven years after the Second Lebanon War, there is a very good security reality on both sides of the border. The time was used to dramatically improve the IDF’s ability.”
Avi Issacharoff and Stuart Winer contributed to this report