With Iranian backing, Hezbollah guerrillas have dramatically increased their rocket range and can now threaten most of Israel, senior Israeli defense officials said.
The Lebanese group has acquired new Iranian rockets with a range of about 185 miles, the officials said Wednesday. That means the guerrillas can hit anywhere in Israel’s heavily populated center and reach as far south as Dimona, where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge the confidential intelligence assessment to the media.
When Israel and Hezbollah fought a monthlong war in 2006, Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets into Israel. The longest-range rockets fired, which Israel said were Iranian-made, hit some 45 miles inside Israel.
Although Israel’s air force managed to take out most of the group’s long-range rockets, the military failed throughout the war to halt the short-range rocket fire that paralyzed northern Israel and killed 40 Israeli civilians.
After the war, the U.N. dispatched a peacekeeping force to distance Hezbollah from the border and prevent the group from rearming. Since then, Hezbollah hasn’t launched any rockets at Israel. Two incidents of rocket fire were not claimed by the group and were likely the work of smaller militant factions.
But Israel says Hezbollah’s Iranian and Syrian patrons have steadily provided the group with large amounts of rockets since then, many of them capable of hitting central Israel. However, it has not revealed the evidence for its claims.
Hezbollah declined comment Thursday. Yasmina Bouzian, a spokeswoman for the U.N. peacekeepers, said the international forces had “seen no sign or had any report of movement of weapons” in south Lebanon.
Iranian officials were not available for comment. Iran has never admitted arming Hezbollah, saying its support for the group is limited to civil and humanitarian aid.
The defense officials did not say how many of the new rockets Hezbollah has obtained. However, Israelis have said previously that overall, Hezbollah now has many more rockets in its arsenal than the 14,000 it had before the conflict — likely more than double that number.
In early March, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported Israeli claims that Hezbollah’s arsenal includes 10,000 long-range rockets and 20,000 short-range rockets in southern Lebanon.
Israel also faces near-daily rocket barrages in the south from Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Islamic group Hamas. The rockets from Gaza, mainly crude short-range projectiles, have killed 13 Israelis since 2001. Like Hezbollah, Hamas has strong ties to Iran.