The outgoing Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, made a remarkable admission during a speech to the American Enterprise Institute three weeks ago that should have received more attention. In his speech, the SecDef properly observed that the U.S. has consistently failed to predict threats. He then pointed to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group responsible for killing the most Americans before 9/11 and their large cache of rockets and cruise missiles – the latter capable of threatening U.S. ships out to 65 miles off the coast of Lebanon.
As word comes of Iran’s pending nuclear capability, perhaps now only eight weeks off, focusing on Hezbollah’s, and Iran’s, capabilities and intentions are key to an understanding of our options and the risks in the region.
The Chinese-designed, Iranian-improved and manufactured Silkworm series of anti-ship cruise missiles presents a difficult threat for the U.S. and its allies to counter. This is especially so if the missiles are positioned in densely populated apartment blocks, schools, or mosques. It was one such missile that Hezbollah, probably with Iranian al-Quds Brigade advisor assistance, struck an Israeli naval vessel with in 2006.
Since its 2006 conflict with Israel, Iran has fully restocked Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, with, by some estimates, some 50,000 rockets, some of which can reach Israel’s far south.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has also grown close to the Hamas terror group in Gaza, supplying them with increasingly amounts of weaponry as well. In fact, during my most recent trip to the region in March, the Israeli navy had intercepted an Iranian charted cargo ship intended for Hamas on board which were a large supply of ammunition, rockets and Silkworm missiles. Finding anti-ship cruise missiles on this cargo ship probably means that there were other undiscovered shipments – Hamas likely has a sophisticated anti-ship capability as well.
Disturbingly, Hamas and Hezbollah-controlled territories are close enough to Israel’s two main ports, Ashdod in the south, and Haifa in the north, that these terror groups might be able to declare a “naval blockade” of Israel. This would expand the conflict significantly and not in favor of Israel or the U.S.
I explore this concept in detail, as well as my analysis that Hamas, in league with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, might initiate such a blockade against Israel in mid-August for the purpose of boosting the latter’s electoral gains in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in September in an extensive report available at www.MidEastReport.org.