Missiles Neutralizing Israeli Tanks

By BENJAMIN HARVEY

Associated Press

August 5, 2006

JERUSALEM — Hezbollah's sophisticated anti-tank missiles are perhaps the guerrilla group's deadliest weapon in Lebanon fighting, with their ability to pierce Israel's most advanced tanks.

Experts say this is further evidence that Israel is facing a well-equipped army in this war, not a ragtag militia.

Hezbollah has fired Russian-made Metis-M anti-tank missiles and owns European-made Milan missiles, the army confirmed on Friday.

In the last two days alone, these missiles have killed seven soldiers and damaged three Israeli-made Merkava tanks -- mountains of steel that are vaunted as symbols of Israel's military might, the army said. Israeli media say most of the 44 soldiers killed in four weeks of fighting were hit by anti-tank missiles.

"They (Hezbollah guerrillas) have some of the most advanced anti-tank missiles in the world," said Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior military intelligence officer who retired earlier this summer.

"This is not a militia, it's an infantry brigade with all the support units," Kuperwasser said.

Israel contends that Hezbollah gets almost all of its weaponry from Syria and by extension Iran, including its anti-tank missiles.

That's why cutting off the supply chain is essential -- and why fighting Hezbollah after it has spent six years building up its arsenal is proving so painful to Israel, officials say.

Israel's Merkava tanks boast massive amounts of armor and lumber and resemble fortresses on tracks. They are built for crew survival, according to Globalsecurity.org, a Washington-based military think tank.

Hezbollah celebrates when it destroys one.

"A Zionist armored force tried to advance toward the village of Chihine. The holy warriors confronted it and destroyed two Merkava tanks," the group proclaimed on television Thursday.

The Israeli army confirmed two attacks on Merkava tanks that day -- one that killed three soldiers and the other killing one. The three soldiers who were killed on Friday were also killed by anti-tank missiles, the army said.

It would not say whether the missiles disabled the tanks.

"To the best of my understanding, they (Hezbollah) are as well-equipped as any standing unit in the Syrian or Iranian armies," said Eran Lerman, a retired army colonel and now director of the Israel/Middle East office of the American Jewish Committee. "This is not a rat-pack guerrilla, this is an organized militia."

Besides the anti-tank missiles, Hezbollah is also known to have a powerful rocket-propelled grenade known as the RPG29. These weapons are also smuggled through Syria, an Israeli security official said, and were previously used by Palestinian militants in Gaza to damage tanks.

On Friday, Jane's Defense Weekly, a defense industry magazine, reported that Hezbollah asked Iran for "a constant supply of weapons" to support its operations against Israel.

The report cited Western diplomatic sources as saying that Iranian authorities promised Hezbollah a steady supply of weapons "for the next stage of the confrontation."

Top Israeli intelligence officials say they have seen Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers on the ground with Hezbollah troops. They say that permission to fire Hezbollah's longer-range missiles, such as those could reach Tel Aviv, would likely require Iranian go-ahead.