Iran has recently made significant advances in the development of its weapon arsenal, including precision-guided rockets and missiles, cruise missiles and drones, Israeli media reported Wednesday.
According to Amos Harel, one of Israel’s leading experts on military and defense issues, Israeli intelligence has observed a rise in Iranian capabilities, which are now being extensively distributed across Iran’s radical axis of proxy forces in the Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad regime in Syria, the Shia militias in Iraq, and the Houthi militia in Yemen.
Writing in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Harel citied intelligence officials as stating that, for the first time, the Iranian arms industry has become “an industry encompassing the entire radical axis.”
“One unit from the Revolutionary Guards, Unit 340 of the Quds Force, is responsible for the research and development that serves all the terrorist and guerilla organizations operating with Tehran’s patronage and financing,” said Harel. “The knowhow gained by the Iranians is quickly and effectively relayed to their proxies throughout the region.”
Harel explained that Tehran’s aim is to enable these organizations to achieve independent production capability in their respective countries, without being dependent upon Iranian smuggling operations. This will help these proxy forces should Israel successfully strike any part of Iran’s various smuggling channels.
Last week, Iran blamed Israel for a blast on an Iranian cargo ship in the Mediterranean, with an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson noting that Iran would consider “all options” in response, according to reports in local media.
The container ship Shahr e Kord was hit by an explosive object which caused a small fire, but no one on board was hurt.
“Israel is especially concerned by Hezbollah’s acceleration of its “precision project,” in which it plans to do a massive upgrade of its arsenal of rockets and missiles so they can strike within just a few meters of their targets,” Harel said. “In recent years, in the wake of the Israeli strikes on its smuggling operations, Hezbollah has made several attempts to build facilities in Lebanon to manufacture weaponry and convert arms to precision-guided weapons.”
He said, officially, Israel talks about Hezbollah having dozens of precision rockets, but some assessments say that number has surged in the past couple of years and is now reputedly in the hundreds.
“Hezbollah is working on developing several types of improvements for its missiles – greater precision, greater lethal impact and ability to circumvent the active Israeli defense systems,” said Harel. “In his speeches, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah often talks about the level of precision of his organization’s weaponry and boasts that in the event of a war, Israel will be surprised by Hezbollah’s capabilities.”
He said another nearby arena where similar progress has been made is the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas, with Iranian aid, has significantly boosted its production capacity for rockets and drones and conducts very frequent test firings that are directed westward into the Mediterranean.”
In the last few years, Hamas members have traveled to Iran and elsewhere for training in weapons development, claimed Harel.
He pointed out that in late February, an Israeli naval operation reportedly destroyed Hamas weapons off the Gaza coast.
This, said Harel, turned out to be a Hamas boat.
The Houthi militia in Yemen, which operates in close consultation with the Revolutionary Guards, have also been “dramatically upgraded,” Harel said.
He points that in recent weeks, the Iran-backed Houthis have stepped up their attacks against airfields and oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, firing dozens of drones and missiles at the Kingdom in recent weeks.
“At present, the Houthis are not showing much interest in friction with Israel,” said Harel. “They are too preoccupied with the war on the Saudis. But intelligence officials say that in the future, Iran may try to deploy drones and missiles in Yemen that could reach southern Israel."