Yesterday’s report that a Hezbollah drone loaded with explosives hit an Israeli ship blockading the Lebanon coast turns out to have been wrong. The news is more troubling than that. Haaretz reports that the ship was actually attacked by a Chinese missile never seen before in the Israeli-Arab conflict:
Initial assessment held that the ship had been struck by an unmanned aerial vehicle loaded with explosives. However, later in the night it became clear that a missile had hit INS Spear.
The missile, is a C-802 radar-guided anti-shipping missile manufactured in Iran using Chinese technology. Its range is estimated to be about 110 km.
Apparently two such missiles were fired on Friday night, one of them hitting INS Spear and the other a Cambodian-flagged freighter, 60 km off shore. A dozen Egyptian sailors from the freighter were picked up by another commercial vessel after their ship sunk following the missile strike.
The Beirut blog, Blogging the Middle East (READ IT!), called it dead right when he wrote about the supposed drone attack:
They claim the gunship was hit by drones; I am not so sure about that. They looked like rockets. Saw the moment of release. They didn’t look much like drones at the moment of firing. I think Israel is trying to minimize the psychological impact by assuring its citizens that it was not a rocket/missile but a “small drone”.
It’s no wonder that Israel first conjectured the explosion was caused by an explosives-laden drone since that is what Hezbollah has done before. Human beings naturally attribute something they’ve never seen before to something they have. They can’t imagine how anything new could come along. But whereas this is human nature it is exactly the opposite of what military intelligence is supposed to be. You’re supposed to imagine every possible scenario the enemy can put before you. The IDF failed miserably on that count it appears. I’m wondering whether there is a head or two rolling there. What does that say about Israel’s vaunted intelligence apparatus?
We know that the attack came as a complete surprise because Israeli ships had their defensive radar turned off so as not to accidentally attack Israeli jets in the air:
The Saar-5 class is equipped with very advanced defensive systems. However, these were not in operation at the time of attack, partly because of the number of IAF aircraft operating in the area. It was feared that if the system was in operation, it would mistakenly identify friendly aircraft as enemy targets and engage them.
Sounds like a tremendous intelligence failure–or as the Israelis would say–a real ballagon (“mess”).
Being the resourceful insurgent force that it is, Hezbollah completely surprised its enemy with an unexpected and unwelcome surprise. It appears that Hezbollah has carefully calibrated its tactics for this operation. One can only wonder what new surprise it has up its sleeves. If I were IDF intelligence, I’d be somewhere close to panicked about what the future holds for the current Israeli invasion.
This attack adds a new geopolitical dimension to the conflict. Before we knew Iran supported Hezbollah but now we know precisely how it has done so. If you add to the mix that the Iranians received the technology from the Chinese and start to speculate whether the latter had any inkling of how their know-how might be used well–it starts getting really hairy. I wonder how or whether China will react to this. If they do not denounce the attack then one may assume that they support the firing at least tacitly. Then we get into the frightening territory of external states interjecting their advanced weaponry into the Mideast conflict. This is ground that we haven’t traversed since the U.S. and Russia were duking it out in 1973 with their proxies of Israel and the Arab states. Do we really want to go back to that sort of brinkmanship? Can the world being the tenuous and crisis-filled place it currently is, afford that?
You can be damn sure that Don Rumsfeld and Condi are on the phone as I write with their Chinese counterparts trying to suss out what China’s role and intentions are regarding this incident. Perhaps China knew nothing of the use to which Iran might put their missiles. As for Iran, their MO appears to be to gum up the works in the Mideast so badly that no one will give a crap what they do with their nuclear program. In so many words they seem to be saying: “Keep putting pressure on us and we will sow the seeds of destruction and you (secifically, Israel) will reap the whirlwind.” It hardly seems they will be successful. But they are causing a world of mischief and that’s probably just as they would have it right now given the pressures they face from the UN.