Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Iranian Hand Seen in Tunnel Network

Mark Dodd, The Australian:
Israeli forces trying to root out militant Hezbollah fighters from southern Lebanon have uncovered sophisticated "Viet Cong-style" tunnel networks and encountered fierce resistance they say indicates the presence of Iranian military advisers. In its latest report on the fighting, British-based security and intelligence journal Jane's Defence Weekly cites a "senior defence source" who claims that what the Israeli army is facing in Lebanon is not a militia force but "rather a special forces brigade of the Iranian army". READ MORE

Jane's reports Israeli forces have discovered a well-established network of tunnels and trenches with entrances often disguised inside dwellings.

Jane's correspondent Alon Ben-David told The Australian the tunnels were deep enough for the Islamic militant group to survive Israeli artillery and aerial bombardment.

Mr Ben-David said that, while no hard evidence of Iranians fighting on the frontlines had been uncovered so far, Israeli defence sources were adamant they were active in rear areas assisting with arms procurement and working close with Hezbollah in their Beirut headquarters.

He said senior Israeli military sources were also convinced Iranian military help was behind the "radar targeting" required for the July 14 missile attack last week against an Israeli ship off the Lebanon coast.

"We know for certain they (Iranians) are in the Bekaa Valley as instructors but there is no proof they are present in south Lebanon," he said.

The Bekaa, long regarded as Lebanon's bread basket, lies 30km east of Beirut. It is a notable centre of operations for Hezbollah, which advocates the creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon.

But Amin Saikal, head of the Centre of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, said he was sceptical of new claims about Iranian involvement in the fighting in Lebanon.

Professor Saikal said Iran had been active in the 1980s helping train and support Hezbollah militants but its present role was less clear. "Israel has all along claimed Iran is behind Hezbollah but I would be personally surprised if Iranian forces are fighting alongside Hezbollah in southern Lebanon," he said, adding the propaganda risk posed by the capture of an Iranian would rule out a combat role.

Hezbollah had evolved into a potent military force in its own right - a militia that was well trained and equipped but, more significantly, its fighters were "ideologically very devoted," Professor Saikal said.

"It is interesting that Israel was able to defeat all the Arab armies in six days in 1967 but has not been able to destroy or even substantially weaken Hezbollah over 13 days."