Israel claims to uncover Hezbollah missile plant in Lebanon

Hezbollah denies having precision-guided missile production sites in Lebanon, but says it possesses such weapons.

    A Hezbollah fighter holds an Iranian-made anti-aircraft missile in south Lebanon [File: Hussein Malla/AP Photo]
    A Hezbollah fighter holds an Iranian-made anti-aircraft missile in south Lebanon [File: Hussein Malla/AP Photo]

    Israel has accused Hezbollah of building a precision-missile factory in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, just days after a cross-border flare-up between the two foes.

    In a statement accompanied by satellite images, the Israeli military said on Tuesday that Hezbollah, with Iranian assistance, had brought specialised equipment to a weapons factory near the village of al-Nabi Shaith, in the Bekaa Valley, with the intention to set up a production line for precision-guided missiles.

    "The IDF is exposing a facility belonging to Hezbollah ... designed to convert and manufacture precision-guided missiles," the statement said.

    There was no immediate response from Hezbollah, which has denied having precision-guided missile production sites in Lebanon. But it says it possesses such weapons, which could be used to home in on and knock out key Israeli infrastructure.

    Cross-border fire

    Israel's announcement came just days after the Iran-backed group said its fighters had fired anti-tank missiles into Israel, destroying a military vehicle and killing or wounding those inside.

    Israel's military said it had responded with approximately 100 artillery shells after Hezbollah targeted a battalion headquarters and military ambulance, hitting both.

    Israeli officials said there were no casualties on its side.

    It was the first time in years that the two enemies have exchanged fire.

    Israel's army said last week that Iran was collaborating with Hezbollah to convert "stupid rockets into precision-guided missiles", through a plan to smuggle the required components into Lebanon.

    In late August, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused Israel of using the group's capability with precision-guided missiles as a pretext for attacks.

    Weapons facility

    The facility near al-Nabi Shaith was established a few years ago by the Lebanese Shia movement and its ally Tehran, the Israeli army said on Tuesday.

    "Lately, various activities to facilitate the manufacture and conversion of precision-guided missiles at the facility have been identified," it added.

    Such activities included "the establishment of a dedicated assembly line for precision weapons and the transfer of sensitive and dedicated equipment".

    The facility hosted machines designed to manufacture the motors and warheads of missiles "with an accuracy of less than 10 meters", with Iran supplying special machines and instruction for manufacturing crews, the Israeli army said.

    It further alleged that Hezbollah had "in fear of strikes, evacuated precious and unique equipment from the compound to civilian locations in Beirut."

    Ongoing hostilities

    Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Monday said his organisation would respond to any further Israeli attacks with attacks "deep inside Israel" and not just along the border.  

    For his part, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting that he was determined to guarantee Israel's security.

    Israel must "prevent Iran from supplying our enemies and its proxies, such as Hezbollah and others, with precision weapons that endanger us," he said.

    Israel has recently expressed concerns that Hezbollah and Iran are pursuing a missile-production industry in Lebanon. On Saturday, Nasrallah said the group did not "have factories to produce precision-guided missiles in Lebanon."

    Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006. Israel considers the group its most immediate threat.

    SOURCE: News agencies