Hezbollah is believed to have found a way to smuggle powerful ballistic missiles into Lebanon, despite concerted Israeli efforts to prevent such proliferation.
U.S. officials think components of disassembled missile systems are individually being brought into Lebanon in order to avoid detection by Israel. In the past, the Israeli military has used air strikes to eliminate suspected missiles thought to be on their way to the extremist organization, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
Hezbollah in Lebanon may now possess up to 12 Russian-manufactured, anti-ship guided-missile systems, even after Israeli attacks on convoys thought to be carrying the weapons, according to informed U.S. officials.
Israeli aerial strikes have had more success in preventing suspected shipments of rockets and anti-aircraft weapons from reaching Lebanon, Israeli and U.S. officials said. The arms are believed to have come in from both Syria and Iran.
Some missiles that could be used to attack Israeli military outposts and airplanes are still being held in weapon-storage facilities under Hezbollah control in neighboring Syria, according to current and ex-U.S. officials.
Tehran wishes to improve its ally Hezbollah's military capabilities in order to discourage the Israeli government from carrying out attacks on Lebanon or against Iranian nuclear facilities, unidentified Israeli and U.S. officials said.
Israeli analyst Ronen Bergman, who has ties to his country's intelligence community, on Thursday told the New York Times that longer-range Scud D ballistic missiles and shorter-range Scud C missiles are among the weapons being smuggled into Lebanon.
Israel carried out a minimum of five undeclared air strikes in Syria last year aimed at eliminating weapons believed headed to Hezbollah, according to the Times.
In a likely response to the rising ballistic-missile threat posed by Hezbollah, the Israeli military on Friday carried out a successful test of its long-range missile-interception capabilities, Reuters reported.
The test of the developmental Arrow 3 system was not an intercept trial, officials said.
"The Arrow 3 interceptor successfully launched and flew an exo-atmospheric trajectory through space," the Israeli Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Israel foresees fielding the advanced antimissile technology, which is being jointly developed with the United States, as early as 2015, according to Reuters. That appears to be sooner than earlier expected; last June, the system was anticipated for activation in 2016.