Israeli defense experts were still sounding alarms this week over Google Earth images made public Friday by the Israeli daily Haaretz. The satellite photos, taken March 22, show Scud missiles ready for deployment at a Syrian base at Adra, where earlier reports suggest Syria is training Hezbollah militants in the use of missiles that threaten large parts of Israel.
The photos show five 11-meter-long Scuds at the Adra base. Three are on trucks in a car park. Two others are in a training area where 20 to 25 people can be made out along with about 20 vehicles. One of the two missiles appears to be mounted on a mobile launcher; another is on the ground.
Earlier reports have suggested that the Adra base, located in a deep valley surrounded by 400-meter mountains, has concrete tunnels leading deep underground where the missiles are apparently stored in protected silos.
In 2006, Hezbollah rocket fire into Israel precipitated Israeli air strikes and a ground invasion of Lebanon. Hezbollah’s month-long barrage of rockets deeply unsettled Israel; with Scud missiles, Hezbollah can strike all the major cities in Israel.
In April, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai reported that Syrian President Bashar Assad was arming Hezbollah with Scuds, a report Assad denied but both the U.S. and Israel later confirmed. Hezbollah sources told Al Rai that the group had the capability to launch 15 tons of explosives at Israel every day in the case of another war between the two sides, and went on to claim that Hezbollah possesses a wide range of missiles with a heavy payload, including the 1-ton Zilzal missile and half-ton Fateh 110 and M600 missiles.
In May, the Sunday Times reported that shipments of weapons from the Adra base were going to Hezbollah, and that Iran was sending missiles and other weapons to that base via Damascus airport nearby. The paper also said Hezbollah had been given a section of the base for barracks, warehouses and a fleet of trucks to transport weapons to the Lebanese border, which is just 25 miles away.
Assad has entered a close strategic partnership with Iran, Hezbollah’s primary political and financial master. According to the Pentagon, Hezbollah receives up to $200 million from Iran each year, in addition to arms.
Jeffrey White, former head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s Office for Middle East/Africa Regional Military Assessments and now defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said last month that Hezbollah is “preparing for war.”
“It has built up its rocket and missile forces and air defenses, and now has four times as many rockets and more accurate missiles than in 2006,” White said.
The Google Earth photos also show extensive construction at military bases throughout Syria.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs in June, Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said “Hezbollah is effectively a state within a state in Lebanon, with an ever growing and ever more sophisticated long-range arsenal. It is untrammeled by the Lebanese government to which it belongs and answerable to no one in that nation, but rather to the dictatorships in Damascus and Tehran.”
Energetic efforts by the Obama administration to engage Syria and pry Assad away from his relationship with Tehran have so far proved fruitless. In an interview in The Wall Street Journal in September, published as he was meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem downplayed the prospects of renewed talks with Israel and voiced opposition to many of Washington’s regional initiatives.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is currently visiting Lebanon.On his itinerary: a visit to the Lebanon-Israel border so he can throw stones at Israeli soldiers. AOL