Saturday, July 15, 2006

Hizballah Brings out Iranian Silkworm to Hit Israel Navy Corvette

The disaster that overtook one of the Israeli Navy’s state of the art warships, Ahi-Hanit, was thoroughly planned in advance by an enemy which managed to take Israel’s military commanders by surprise. It has shocked Israel’s military to a degree comparable to the profound effect on US forces of al Qaeda’s 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Aden.

The Saar-5 class corvette, with a crew of 61 seamen and a 10-man helicopter crew, was hit Friday, July 17 at 20:15 hours, while shelling Beirut international airport. Four crewmen were reported missing. One was found dead Saturday aboard the crippled ship. He is First Sgt Tal Amgar, 21, from Ashdod. The search continues for three missing crewmen, Sgt. Yaniv Hershkovitch, 21, from Haifa, Corp. Shai Atias, 19, from Rishon Lezion and Master Sgt. Dov Shternschuss, 37, from Carmiel.

DEBKAfile’s military sources reveal that the warship was struck from Beirut by an Iran-made radar-guided C-802 shore-to-sea missile of the Silkworm family. Weighing 715 kilos, with a range of 120km, the missile is armed with a strong anti-jamming capability, which lends it a 98% success rate in escaping interception. READ MORE

The Israeli ship is armed with an advanced Barak anti-missile system, which may have missed the incoming missile. Israeli military planners must now look at the vulnerability of the navy following the appearance of the first Iranian C-802 missiles

The Israeli chief of staff, Lt.Gen. Dan Halutz, started his news conference Friday night just 15 minutes earlier at 20:00. The campaign was then 60 hours old from the moment Hizballah raiders captured two Israel soldiers in an ambush inside Israel. He was poised, assured and clear, until a reporter asked if the military goals of the Lebanese offensive matched the objectives set out in government decisions. His answer was: “Don’t start looking for cracks.”

But Hizballah found the cracks 15 minutes later. Its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah put in a telephone appearance on Al Manar TV straight after General Halutz to inform his listeners across the Middle East that one of Israel’s warships was ablaze at that very moment. He said the ship had been crippled while it was bombing Beirut and was sinking. Hizballah, he added, had prepared a number of surprises for Israel and its armed forces Despite several Israeli air raids, the station is still broadcasting.

In Israel, the Hizballah chief’s words were taken at first as an implausible threat for the future – until the order of events began to unfold.

DEBKAfile’s military sources reveal:

Shortly before 20:00 hours Friday, Hizballah launched a pair of land-to-sea C-802 missiles against the Israeli ship from the coast of Beirut. The trajectory of the first was adjusted to a landing amidships from above. It missed and exploded in the water. The second was rigged to skim the water like a cruise missile. It achieved a direct hit of the Ahi Hanit’s helicopter deck, starting a fire. The ship began to sink, as Nasrallah said, and would have been lost were it not for the speed and bravery of crewmen who jumped into the flames and doused them before the ship exploded and sank.

It is not known whether the men dead and missing paid with their lives for saving the ship.

This was the second time in 48 hours that the Israeli high command was taken by unawares.

July 12, the day that Hizballah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, was also the deadline for Iran to deliver its answer to the six-power package of incentives for giving up its nuclear enrichment program. Tehran let the day go by without an answer. Someone should have kept an eye on Iran’s Lebanese surrogate and made the connection with a fresh virulent threat against Israel from Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, the high alert declared earlier this month for Israeli units on the Lebanese border was not restored.

The Hizballah guerrillas took advantage of this lack of vigilance to infiltrate Israel near Zarit, penetrate to a distance of 200 meters, fire RPGs and roadside bombs at two Israeli Hammer jeeps on patrol, and make off with Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Eight Israeli soldiers lost their lives as a result of this attack.

The IDF ground pursuit for the two men was cut short when an Israeli tank was blown up by a massive 300-kilo bomb in south Lebanon, killing the four-man crew and a fifth soldier who tried to rescue his comrades.

The attack on the Ahi-Hanit was the third surprise.

When General Halutz was asked if Israel does not fear Syrian and Iranian intervention in the hostilities, he replied firmly in the negative. But Iran has been involved from the very first moment.

This localized perception of the Just Reward campaign in Lebanon, contrary to Israeli leaders’ rhetoric, is hampering its effectiveness. The war embarked on Wednesday night, July 12, must be seen in its regional strategic dimensions. It is therefore not enough to bash Nasrallah without taking into account beforehand that his strings are pulled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad from Tehran and the Syrian president Bashar Assad, who opened up Damascus military airport for the delivery of Iranian missiles to his militia.

Saturday morning, Hizballah TV broadcast a videotape showed a blurred object looking like a small unmanned aircraft purportedly packed with explosives exploding in the water. This was an attempt to muddy the trail leading to Tehran and present the fatal attack as an extraordinary feat of arms by Hizballah. It was also another move in and intense psychological war to undermine Israeli morale. The inference they are trying to get across is that if the Shiite terrorists have a weapon that can hit a moving target at sea, the will not find it hard to reach any part of Israel including Tel Aviv.