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December 30, 2002

More evidence that Hizballah's days are numbered

Hizballah misfires first missile of Iraqi shipment

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report

Hizballah adds Iraqi missiles to Syrian, Iranian arsenal.

The powerful blast that reverberated across eastern and central Lebanon Sunday, December 29, was caused by the explosion of a big surface missile in Hizballah hands and of Iraqi origin. Reporting this, DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and Lebanese sources reveal that the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group has recently taken delivery of a shipment of surface missiles, presumed to be medium-range, from the Iraqi army. The blast occurred at a Hizballah training camp near a village called Janta in the northeastern section of the Beqaa Valley close to the Syrian frontier. This camp is also used by the group as a testing ground for new weapons, short range missiles and explosive devices. The blast was heard at a distance of 20 km indicating a warhead of one ton at least.

According to our sources, the missile exploded suddenly, catching the Hizballah team handling it unawares and causing a large number of casualties, as indicated by the long line of ambulances and rescue teams reported by witnesses to be racing to the blast scene from northern and central Lebanon. Among them were Syrian military rescue vehicles. The Hizballah quickly sealed off the ravaged area, allowing no one through but the rescue teams, their own operatives and Syrian officers.

Military sources consulted by DEBKAfile ascribe the missile explosion to three possible causes:

A. One of the recently delivered Iraqi missiles exploded accidentally while being unpacked and stowed in an underground bunker by Hizballah teams.

If this is what happened, then the missiles were armed when they made their way from northern Iraq through Syria to eastern Lebanon – either because the consignment was approved by the Iraqi leadership in great haste, leaving no time to disarm them, or to enable the transport crew to target Israel if attacked from the ground or air.

B. One of the missiles was set up for launching against Israel and exploded prematurely. For the Hizballah, shooting even one missile into northern Israel would have gained the group enormous prestige in its Arab and Muslim milieu, while Israel would have found it hard to justify a large-scale response to a single missile. Had it landed in an open space, the Hizballah would have claimed it was misfired.

Our Lebanese sources report that the Iraqi ruler, Saddam Hussein, is leaning hard on the Hizballah secretary general, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, to open a warfront against Israel in the hope of easing US military pressure on Iraq.

C. The Hizballah was setting the missile up for a practice launch when it blew up. This is unlikely as the Beqaa Valley is not the logical place for testing medium or long range missiles. From there they can only be fired at Syria, Israel or the Mediterranean. Of the three, Israel would make the most sense.

Hizballah officials and media have been working overtime to play down the missile mishap and divert attention from the heavy casualty toll and massive destruction it engendered – a far cry from the blaze of glory that Nasrallah envisioned would be his when he staged his first missile attack on the Jewish state, whether the weapon he launched was supplied by Syria, Iran or Iraq.