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[ISN] Hezbollah cracked the code
Forwarded from: William Knowles <wk (at) c4i.org>
By MOHAMAD BAZZI
Newsday Middle East Correspondent
September 18, 2006
AITA SHAAB, Lebanon -- Hezbollah guerrillas were able to hack into
Israeli radio communications during last month's battles in south
Lebanon, an intelligence breakthrough that helped them thwart Israeli
tank assaults, according to Hezbollah and Lebanese officials.
Using technology most likely supplied by Iran, special Hezbollah teams
monitored the constantly changing radio frequencies of Israeli troops on
the ground. That gave guerrillas a picture of Israeli movements,
casualty reports and supply routes. It also allowed Hezbollah anti-tank
units to more effectively target advancing Israeli armor, according to
"We were able to monitor Israeli communications, and we used this
information to adjust our planning," said a Hezbollah commander involved
in the battles, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The official
refused to detail how Hezbollah was able to intercept and decipher
Israeli transmissions. He acknowledged that guerrillas were not able to
hack into Israeli communications around the clock.
The Israeli military refused to comment on whether its radio
communications were compromised, citing security concerns. But a former
Israeli general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said
Hezbollah's ability to secretly hack into military transmissions had
"disastrous" consequences for the Israeli offensive.
"Israel's military leaders clearly underestimated the enemy and this is
just one example," he said.
Dodging the efforts
Like most modern militaries, Israeli forces use a practice known as
"frequency-hopping" - rapidly switching among dozens of frequencies per
second - to prevent radio messages from being jammed or intercepted. It
also uses encryption devices to make it difficult for enemy forces to
decipher transmissions even if they are intercepted. The Israelis mostly
rely on a U.S.-designed communication system called the Single Channel
Ground and Airborne Radio System.
Hezbollah's ability to intercept and decode Israeli transmissions
underscores how the Shia group had higher military capabilities than
many Israeli and U.S. officials thought.
Much of Hezbollah's capability is believed to have come from its two
main backers, Iran and Syria.
During 34 days of fighting, which ended Aug. 14 under a cease-fire
brokered by the United Nations, Hezbollah repeatedly surprised Israel by
deploying new types of missiles and battlefield tactics.
"The Israelis did not realize that they were facing a guerrilla force
with the capabilities of a regular army," said a senior Lebanese
security official who asked not to be identified. "Hezbollah invested a
lot of resources into eavesdropping and signals interception."
Besides radio transmissions, the official said Hezbollah also monitored
cell phone calls among Israeli troops. But cell phones are usually
easier to intercept than military radio, and officials said Israeli
forces were under strict orders not to divulge sensitive information
over the phone.
Hezbollah eavesdropping teams had trained Hebrew speakers who could
quickly translate intercepted Israeli transmissions and relay the
information to local commanders, the Hezbollah official said. Even
before the war, the group had dozens of translators working in its
southern Beirut offices to monitor Israeli media and phone intercepts.
With frequency-hopping and encryption, most radio communications become
very difficult to hack. But troops in the battlefield sometimes make
mistakes in following secure radio procedures and can give an enemy a
way to break into the frequency-hopping patterns. That might have
happened during some battles between Israel and Hezbollah, according to
the Lebanese official. Hezbollah teams likely also had sophisticated
reconnaissance devices that could intercept radio signals even while
they were frequency-hopping.
During one raid in southern Lebanon, Israeli special forces said they
found a Hezbollah office equipped with jamming and eavesdropping
devices. Israeli officials said the base also had detailed maps of
northern Israel, lists of Israeli patrols along the border and cell
phone numbers for Israeli commanders.
That raid highlighted the ongoing spy war between Hezbollah and Israel.
Since Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000 - after
an 18-year occupation and guerrilla war with Hezbollah - the militia has
stepped up its espionage efforts against Israel. According to Israeli
military officials, a special Hezbollah unit recruits Israeli Arabs and
others to spy for it. The agents are assigned to obtain maps, monitor
Israeli patrols, gather cell phone numbers and photograph military
facilities. This information is used to draw up detailed maps and files
that could be used to direct Hezbollah's rocket and missile attacks.
"After the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, each side competed to spy on the
other," said Nizar Qader, a retired Lebanese army general who is now an
independent military analyst. "This intelligence-gathering was essential
to fighting a war ... Hezbollah appears to have collected better
information than the Israelis."
After Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on
July 12, Israel launched its most intense attack since it invaded
Lebanon in 1982. The offensive crippled the country's infrastructure,
displaced 1 million people, cut off Lebanon from the world and killed
more than 1,200 Lebanese - the majority of them civilians. Hezbollah
fired nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel, killing 43 civilians. Of the 119
Israeli soldiers killed, the majority were killed by anti-tank missiles.
Hezbollah's ability to hack into Israeli communications made its arsenal
of anti-tank missiles even more deadly by improving the targeting.
Throughout the ground war, Hezbollah deployed well-trained anti-tank
teams to transport these missiles and fire them in ways that would
inflict heavy casualties on Israeli forces. The units were made up of
four to six fighters who moved around mostly on foot.
The militia used four kinds of sophisticated missiles that enabled it to
disable - and, in some cases, destroy - Israel's most powerful armor:
Merkava tanks. The Merkava is reinforced with several tons of armor, a
virtual fortress on tracks intended to ensure its crew's survival on the
All the missiles used by Hezbollah are relatively easy to transport and
can be fired by a single guerrilla or a two-person team. They all rely
on armor-piercing warheads. The most prevalent of Hezbollah's anti-tank
weapons is the Russian made RPG-29, a powerful variation on a standard
rocket-propelled grenade. The RPG-29 has a range of 500 yards.
Using all their capabilities
Hezbollah also used three other potent anti-tank missiles, according to
Israeli and Lebanese officials: the Russian-made Metis, which has a
range of 1 mile and can carry high-explosive warheads; the Russian-built
Kornet, which has a range of 3 miles and thermal sights for tracking the
heat signatures of tanks, and the European-built MILAN (a French acronym
for Anti-Tank Light Infantry Missile), which has a range of 1.2 miles, a
guidance system and the ability to be fired at night.
Israeli officials say the Kornet and RPG-29 were provided to Hezbollah
by Syria, which bought them from Russia in the late 1990s. Russian
officials are investigating whether Syria violated an agreement that
these weapons would not be transferred to a third party.
Analysts say Hezbollah used all its capabilities - eavesdropping,
anti-tank missiles and guerrilla fighting skills - to maximum effect.
"The information collected by signals intercepts was being used to help
direct fighters on the battlefield," Qader said. "These are tactics of a
Sonia Verma contributed to this story from Jerusalem.
July 12. Hezbollah kidnaps two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.
July 13. Israel begins bombing the runways at Beirut's airport and
imposes a naval blockade of Lebanon. Hezbollah rocket attacks strike the
northern Israeli city of Haifa.
July 18. The United States, others step up evacuations of their citizens
July 22. Israeli ground troops enter Lebanon.
Aug. 6. Hezbollah rocket attacks kill 12 Israeli soldiers and 3 others
in deadliest day for Israel in nearly 4 weeks of war.
Aug. 12. The UN Security Council approves a resolution calling for a
"full cessation of hostilities."
Aug. 14. Cease-fire takes effect.
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.
"Communications without intelligence is noise; Intelligence
without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
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