August 5, 2006

Hizballah's Zelzal Rocket - Target: Tel Aviv

Click for larger imageHasan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hizballah, has threatened to strike Tel Aviv if Beirut is attacked. How does he plan to do this?

Iran has supplied Hizballah with the Zelzal-2 (Earthquake) rocket system. On August 4, an Iranian government official admitted that his country had supplied the rocket system to Hizballah. Although it has been known since at least 2002 that the rockets had been supplied to Hizballah, Iran's admission did come as a surprise. What is not known is how much control Iran exercises over Hizballah's use of the rocket.

Click for larger imageThe Zelzal-2 is an Iranian adaptation of the Russian FROG-7, a dated battlefield rocket. The Zelzal-2 has a range of 120 miles and carries a 1300 pound warhead - more than enough range and with enough explosives to do serious damage to Tel Aviv. The solid-fuel rocket is 610mm (about two feet) in diameter, is 27 feet long and weighs three and half tons. The transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) is a trailer that can be towed by commercial tractor trucks. According to Lebanese sources, Hizballah has camouflaged the trailer/TEL to look like a commercial cargo container. They were surprised when the Israeli air force was able to pick one of these camouflaged trucks out of a convoy and destroy just that vehicle.

The Israelis believe that Hizballah had received as many as 100 of these rockets from Iran. Although Israel claims that they have destroyed 70 percent of the Zelzal-2 rockets, it is hard to know for sure. It is likely that Hizballah still has enough to cause substantial damage to Tel Aviv is they can successfully launch them. The problem is that with the size of the rocket and its TEL, and the hour or so it takes to set up the rocket for launch, Israeli surveillance systems can usually detect them before a launch.

Should Hizballah be successful in firing a Zelzal-2 into Tel Aviv, that would represent a major escalation of the conflict and may cause the fight to expand beyond the borders of Israel and Lebanon.