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Saturday, July 15, 2006

The War Widens, Hezbollah Strikes Egyptian, Israeli Ships with UAVs

By Bill Roggio

The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah has escalated, as Hezbollah has conducted two sea strikes against an Israeli warship and an Egyptian civilian ship, possibly a cruise liner. While initial reports are stating an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) was used to ram the ships, an anonymous intelligence official indicates the Egyptian ship was struck by a UAV launched antitank missile. According to the intelligence official, the Egyptian ship was hit with a Raad anti-tank missile (this is a different weapon than the Raad rockets fired against the city of Haifa.)

The two attacks occurred earlier today, as Hezbollah struck an Israeli Saar 5 navy gunship off the coast of Lebanon. Four Israeli seamen are missing and the ship has been damaged badly enough the Israeli Defense Force pulled it out of service. "It's the first time the terrorist group -- any terrorist group -- has used a drone in combat, as far as I know," said DefenseTech's Noah Schachtman. The current reports states an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle laden with explosives hit the Israeli warship.

The Egyptian civilian ship was hit during the same attack on the Israeli warship. "At the same time as the incident took place in which an Israeli ship was hit, a merchant ship was also hit," an Israeli spokeswoman stated, according to Reuters. Initial reports, which as of yet are unconfirmed, indicate the Egyptian vessel may have been a cruise ship.

The fact that two separate ships were struck at the same time, very likely with UAV fired antitank missiles, indicates a level of sophistication far beyond that of Hezbollah. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and Imad Mugniyah clearly have a hand in these operations. The coupling of a UAV with an anti-tank missile requires extensive research, development and testing. It is unlikely Hezbollah conducted these efforts without attracting the attention of the watchful Israelis to their south. And the Iranians possess the technological capabilities; the Raad anti-tank missile is from their arsenal. The use of multiple UAVs over the Mediterranean Sea indicates Hezbollah may have a fleet of these UAVs, which must be maintained.

The UAVs can also be used to strike at Israeli land targets. But the implications of a Hezbollah UAV capable of firing an antitank missile reach farther than the current crisis in the Levant. The Iranians have displayed their ability to deploy UAVs capable of effectively attacking shipping in the Persian Gulf.

This occurs under the backdrop of an Israeli air strikes in Hezbllah-dominated neighborhoods, including an attack on Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah's home and Hezbollah's headquarters. Nasrallah survived the attack, and issued a statement of defiance. "You wanted an open war, and we are heading for an open war. We are ready for it. The surprises that I have promised you will start now. Now in the middle of the sea, facing Beirut, the Israeli warship that has attacked the infrastructure, people's homes and civilians - look at it burning," Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said on an broadcast on Hezbollah's Al Manar television.

Today, Syria voiced support of Hezbollah. "The Syrian people are ready to extend full support to the Lebanese people and their heroic resistance to remain steadfast and confront the barbaric Israeli aggression and its crimes," according to the Syrian Baath party. And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has again called for the destruction of Israel, and voiced solidarity with the Syrians. "If Israel commits another act of idiocy and aggresses Syria, this will be the same as an aggression against the entire Islamic world and it will receive a stinging response." And Moqtada al-Sadr, the Iranian backed Iraqi Shiite cleric who has fought the U.S. and the Iraqi government, has weighed in. “Let it be known to everybody that we in Iraq will not sit by with folded hands before the creep of Zionism,” Sadr said in a written statement.
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