January 23, 2012: The growing unrest in Syria has Israel worrying about who will get some of Syria's advanced weapons. Israel believes that Lebanese terror group Hezbollah is taking possession of some Syrian long-range missiles and chemical weapons. This is unlike Libya, where last year's civil war left weapons storage sites unguarded and subject to looting and weapons being sold to smugglers and terror groups. In Syria, the government has maintained control of its bases, although these places are increasingly under attack by armed rebels. But Syria and Lebanon are supported by Iran, and Iran wants Hezbollah to come out of this Syrian mess stronger even if the pro-Iran Syrian government disappears.
Hezbollah knows what it wants from Syria. Two years ago, Hezbollah apparently received over a hundred M600 ballistic missiles from Syria. These were stored in northern Syria outside the town of Masyaf. There, using Google Earth you can see five compounds that appear closed to all but authorized personnel. Inside these compounds there are entrances to bunkers dug into adjacent hills. These bunkers are believed to hold munitions, including missiles being shipped to Hezbollah facilities in Lebanon. There, hundreds of tunnels and bunkers are used for storing Hezbollah munitions, personnel, and vehicles. Satellite and aerial photos have shown weapons being brought in and out of these tunnels.
Syria denies providing Hezbollah with any weapons but the traffic is hard to conceal. Hezbollah appears to have recently received another 30-40 M600 missiles, plus SA-8 self-propelled anti-aircraft missile systems. The SA-8 is an older (1980s) system with a radar that can detect aircraft 30 kilometers away. The SA-8 missiles have a range of 15 kilometers and are shipped six to a storage/launcher container. One of these containers and the search radar is mounted on a 17 ton, 6x6 vehicle. Hezbollah may also have obtained the more recent SA-17, but these were recently bought by Syria (with Iranian cash) for Iran and some SA-17s have already shown up in Iran. As for the Syrian chemical weapons, Syria has been warned by the United States and Israel that if these weapons were transferred to terrorist groups the people running Syria would be held personally responsible (that is, hunted down and killed or captured and prosecuted). But with the Syrian dictatorship on the ropes and desperate, those threats may not be as frightening as they once were.
The Syrian built M600 missile is a copy of the Iranian Fateh which, in turn, is a copy of the Chinese DF-11A (which had a range of 400 kilometers). The M600 is an 8.86 meter (27.5 foot), 3.5 ton rocket with a half-ton warhead. Range is 250-300 kilometers. This might account for the reports three years ago that Syria had provided Hezbollah with SCUD missiles. Both the M600 and SCUD are ballistic missiles, but the M600 is a more modern design. SCUD was developed from the German World War II era V-2.
Hezbollah is also known to have some Fajr-5 rockets and to have recently received a few more. This is a one ton guided missile based on the old Soviet unguided artillery rockets (the larger ones). Fajr-5 has a range of about 75 kilometers and a 91 kg (200 pound) warhead. The guidance system is crude, and the Fajr-5 will land up to a kilometer from its aim point. Hezbollah is also believed to have some Iranian Zalzal rockets. These are based on the old Soviet unguided FROG series and is no more accurate than the Fajr-5, weighs three tons, has a 636 kg (1,400 pound) warhead, and a range of about 200 kilometers. Both of these missiles use solid fuel and, by U.S. standards, decades old technology. But they allow Hezbollah to hit targets throughout most of Israel.
All these weapons except for the SCUDS use solid fuel, meaning they can be launched within ten minutes of the vehicle carrier/launcher halting. Hezbollah is believed to have these launcher vehicles hidden throughout southern Lebanon and are able to exit caves or buildings and promptly fire. If Israel does not know some of the hiding places then some of these missiles can be fired.
During the 2006 war with Israel Hezbollah fired some 4,000 rockets, most of them shorter range (20 kilometers) 122mm BM-21 models. They fired a few longer range rockets at urban areas, and the larger warheads did a lot of damage and caused some casualties. Israeli civil defense plans now take into account more long range missiles being fired by Hezbollah in the future, even though Israel has Patriot and Arrow anti-missile systems deployed. But if Hezbollah, or Syria and Iran, can fire too many missiles at once Israeli anti-missile defenses will be overwhelmed.