Hezbollah's Rocket Science

In this photograph released April 3, 2006 by the Islamic Republic News Agency, the test firing of a Fajr-3 missile by Iran in the Persian Gulf April 1, 2006 is seen. A third-generation Katyusha, the Fajr-3 is believed to have been used by Hezbollah to strike the Israli port city of Haifa. (AP Photo/IRNA)
This story was written by's James Klatell

Hezbollah has fired more than 800 rockets since fighting with Israel began again on July 12 — with some landing as far as 25 miles into Israeli territory. One radar-guided missile damaged an Israeli warship off the Lebanese coast, and another destroyed an Egyptian fishing boat.

Israeli officials have claimed — and defense and Middle East analysts in Washington agree — that Hezbollah's arsenal has increased in both size and range, with help from Iran.

U.S. intelligence estimates that, as of Thursday, a third of Hezbollah's rocket supply has been fired or destroyed by the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon. Israel says it will continue its military campaign until all the rockets are removed from the border area.

"Three things are new," said John Pike, the director of "The longer range of the rockets, Hezbollah firing them in far larger numbers and the cruise missile that they hit the Israeli ship with."

Hezbollah is suspected of having as many as 13,000 short-range artillery rockets — referred to as Katyusha rockets — which Pike says can be set up quickly and fired remotely. These low-tech weapons have a range of roughly 12 miles and are generally inaccurate.

But rockets that hit cities deeper into Israel, like the ones that killed eight people in Haifa, are suspected of being a newer version of the Katyusha — most likely the Iranian-made mid-range Fajr-3 and Fajr-5.

"This is definitely beyond their ability to build themselves," said Guy Ben-Ari, a senior fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. "These are military grade. There is nothing secondhand or homemade about them."

The problem for the Israeli military with these types of rockets is that they fly far enough to threaten major population centers — but slip below the Israeli missile defense system.

Israel, in cooperation with the United States, has spent billions of dollars developing a two-tier anti-missile system that uses Patriot and Arrow missiles to destroy incoming targets like the Scud missiles that pounded Israel during the Gulf War.

Although Patriot missile batteries have been set up around Haifa, no missiles have been fired in the current crisis, said Ben-Ari, who works for the CSIS International Security Program.

"There's really no time to engage Katyusha rockets in a safe manner," Ben-Ari said. The trajectory is too flat and the flying time is too short for a Patriot missile to effectively track and destroy them.

"Theoretically, yes, you could shoot rockets down with Patriot missiles," Pike says, "but you would be firing several million dollars worth of Patriots for several thousand dollars of Hezbollah rockets. You'd run out of Patriots way before Hezbollah ran out of rockets."