On the eve of a deadline in nuclear talks between six world powers and Iran, Lebanon’s militant Shiite Hezbollah organization has revealed that it has acquired advanced Iranian missiles with “pinpoint accuracy” that it could use against Israel in any future war.
“They [the Israelis] are well aware that Hezbollah is in possession of missiles with pinpoint accuracy, and thanks to the equipment Hezbollah acquired, and with the Islamic Republic’s support and Hezbollah’s readiness for any future war, [the next] war will be much tougher for the Israelis,” Naim Qassem, the deputy head of Hezbollah, said in an interview with Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
Sheikh Qassem’s comments on Hezbollah’s enhanced missile capabilities and the threat they pose to Israel came amid waning hopes that a deal could be struck by a Monday deadline in Vienna between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany, the so-called P5+1. The six leading nations want Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, which could be used to make nuclear weapons, in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.
By late Sunday, negotiators were reportedly looking for a way to extend the talks beyond the deadline.
Watching the Vienna talks closely from the sidelines is Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has said he is concerned that any final deal between the P5+1 and Iran will be insufficient to curb what he says is Iran’s goal of building nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian use only.
In an Israeli cabinet meeting Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu said that Israel is delivering a “firm stance” to its allies in insisting that Iran should not be allowed to become a “nuclear threshold state”.
“Therefore, no deal would be preferable to a bad deal that threatens Israel, the Middle East and all of humanity,” he said.
If there is no diplomatic breakthrough in Vienna, the drumbeat for military action against Iran will almost certainly be heard once more, raising tensions in a region already ravaged by conflict and radicalism.
Over the past decade, Iran has turned Hezbollah into a powerful military force with weapons capabilities unmatched by any other non-state actor. In May, a top Israeli army general said Hezbollah’s arsenal “would not shame any army in the world”.
Iran’s considerable military and financial investment in Hezbollah is intended to bolster Iran’s deterrence against a possible attack on its nuclear facilities. If Israel chooses to bomb Iran’s nuclear plants, it must first assess the response of Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon.
The stronger Hezbollah’s military capabilities, the greater the stakes for Israel in launching an attack on Iran. Twenty years ago, Hezbollah’s arsenal of unguided 12-mile range rockets allowed it to pepper parts of northern Israel only. Today, the missiles suspected to be in Hezbollah’s arsenal could slam half a tonne of high-grade explosive into specific targets in Tel Aviv, such as the Israeli defense ministry or Ben Gurion International Airport.
Two weeks ago, a senior officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said that Iran had provided Hezbollah with its indigenously produced Fateh A-110 short-range ballistic missiles.
“Considering the range of their [Hezbollah’s] missiles, they are able now to attack targets from southern to northern parts of the occupied territories [Israel],” said Brigadier General Sayed Majid Moussavi, the IRGC’s air defense commander, according to a report by the Iranian Fars news agency.
The specific missile system to which Moussavi and Hezbollah’s Qassem referred is likely to be the 4th-generation version of the Fateh which has a range in excess of 186 miles and can carry a 1,430 pound warhead. Armed with that missile, Hezbollah could launch it from its camouflaged bases in southern Lebanon and hit Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona in southern Israel, 140 miles south of the border with Lebanon, achieving a degree of reciprocity for any Israeli air strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.