Crack Iranian Troops Target Rockets on Israel.
By Uzi Mahnaimi, (London Sunday Times-July 8)
Small groups of elite Iranian soldiers who have infiltrated southern Lebanon are preparing for rocket attacks on Israel. They have come closer to their avowed enemy than any Tehran forces since the shah was toppled more than 20 years ago.
Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, has been told by military intelligence that the Pasdaran, or Revolutionary Guards rocket unit, has trained long-range Fagr-5 rockets on cities in northern Israel.
Sharon expressed concern about the development to the French and German governments during a whistlestop European tour, and has also warned President George W Bush. At home Sharon told Maariv newspaper of "an unprecedented airlift to Lebanon of long-range rockets that can strike the center of Israel." Confirmation of the Iranian advance came when a Pasdaran soldier defected to Israel demanding political asylum. His reasons for fleeing were unclear and the Israeli authorities have refused to give details of his interrogation. But the defector, known by his surname of Mehrabi, is understood to have confirmed that the Pasdaran unit is operational.
One intelligence source said the rockets were "strategic weapons to deter Israel from launching a large-scale military onslaught against the Palestinians" and feared they could be used if Sharon carried out a threat to bring down Yasir Arafat's Palestinian authority.
Menashe Amir, an Iranian-born Jewish commentator, said Pasdaran troops had been deployed at 20 outposts along the Israeli border. "In some cases the distance between the Iranian and the Israeli troops is not more than a couple of hundred meters," he said. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards' involvement in Lebanon dates back to 1982 after Sharon - then defense minister - led its invasion.
The Iranian deployment has alarmed a military establishment still humiliated by its retreat from Lebanon. "Personally, I believe the rockets are Iran's doomsday weapon to deter Israel," said Gen. Shimon Shapira, military secretary to Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister.
Sharon is adamant that the Iranian presence could not have been established without Syrian permission. "Syria allowed Iran to use its airfields for the arms airlift to Lebanon," he said.
Danny Leshem, a defense expert, said the 240 mm Fagr-5 rockets are carried on mobile launch platforms and have a range of about 50 miles, sufficient to strike the port city of Haifa. "They were made by the Iranians with North Korean and Chinese assistance," Leshem said. The rockets are far from accurate, with a "circular error probability" of about half a mile at the limit of their range.