The Blog

Blind Spots

6:58 PM, Jul 23, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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Here and here are two takes worth reading on the military difficulties facing Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah has had six years to prepare for the Israelis, and thanks to its state sponsors, Iran and Syria, the group's weapons have turned out to be more advanced than Israeli and U.S. intelligence assessed prior to the anti-ship cruise missile attack on an Israeli naval vessel off Lebanon's coast and rockets landing in places like Tiberias. Last week, the New York Times ran a piece, "Arming of Hezbollah Reveals U.S. and Israeli Blind Spots." It noted:

The power and sophistication of the missile and rocket arsenal that Hezbollah has used in recent days has caught the United States and Israel off guard, and officials in both countries are just now learning the extent to which the militant group has succeeded in getting weapons from Iran and Syria.

While the Bush administration has stated that cracking down on weapons proliferation is one of its top priorities, the arming of Hezbollah shows the blind spots of American and other Western intelligence services in assessing the threat, officials from across those governments said….

The officials interviewed agreed to discuss classified intelligence assessments about Hezbollah's capabilities only on condition of anonymity. …[O]fficials said the current conflict also indicated that some of the rockets in Hezbollah's arsenal - including a 220-millimeter rocket used in a deadly attack on a railway site in Haifa on Sunday - were built in Syria.

"The Israelis did forensics, and found several were Syrian-made," said David Schenker, who this spring became a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy after four years working on Middle East issues at the Pentagon. "Everybody recognizes that Syria has played an important role in facilitating transshipment - but not supplying their own missiles to Hezbollah."

Officials have since confirmed that the warhead on the Syrian rocket was filled with ball bearings - a method of destruction used frequently in suicide bombings but not in warhead technology. "We've never seen anything like this," said one Western intelligence official, speaking about the warhead.

But it was Friday's successful launching of a C-802 cruise missile that most alarmed officials in Washington and Jerusalem. Iran began buying dozens of those sophisticated antiship missiles from the Chinese during the 1990's, until the United States pressured Beijing to cease the sales.

Until Friday, however, Western intelligence services did not know that Iran had managed to ship C-802 missiles to Hezbollah….

Such intelligence "blind spots" aren't especially good news in a post-9/11 world. Two terror-sponsoring states arm their client, which operates in a relatively small area, with advanced weaponry we know nothing about until it's used. What else have we missed? Has North Korea proliferated more to Iran than we believe? How good is our grasp of the relationship between rogue regimes and terror groups? You get the point.