BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hizbollah's spectacular rocket attack on an Israeli warship is proof of what Hizbollah has claimed for several years -- it has an array of weapons that could trouble the Middle East's mightiest army.
And with it proof is emerging of what many widely suspected: Iran had stepped up its arms shipments to the Shi'ite Muslim group both in terms of quality and quantity.
An Israeli military source said on Saturday that an Iranian-made C802 radar-guided land-to-sea missile with a range of 60 miles (95 km) hit and badly damaged the ship. Two missiles were fired, the other sank an Egyptian merchant ship, the source said.
"This is sophisticated weaponry. This is advanced weaponry being supplied by one terrorist state (Iran) to another," the source said.
Hizbollah and Israel are locked in a military showdown sparked by Hizbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack on Wednesday. Hizbollah wants to exchange the soldiers for Arab prisoners in Israel.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah's leader, dramatically announced the naval attack during a live telephone call to the group's television station. The rockets were fired as he spoke.
"The surprises that I had promised you start now. Now, at sea, an Israeli warship ... off Beirut is burning and will sink," he said.
Lebanese sources say Hizbollah has more sophisticated weapons systems, most notably short-range anti-aircraft batteries that have not been used so far.
Israel's air force has had unchallenged dominance of the skies over Lebanon for two decades.
Most worryingly perhaps for Israel are thousands of short- to medium-range missiles.
Nasrallah said only last May that the group had more than 13,000 rockets able to reach any target in northern Israel "and maybe beyond".
On Friday Nasrallah said the Lebanese would not suffer alone in the conflict because Israel would feel Hizbollah's response "not just in Haifa but beyond Haifa and beyond, beyond Haifa".
Two rockets landed on the Israeli city of Haifa on Thursday in an attack the Jewish state blamed on Hizbollah and said was a major escalation. The group denied it had fired at Haifa.
Hizbollah has rained 107 mm and 122 mm Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.
Israeli Brigadier General Ido Nehushtan has said that he believes Hizbollah has 10-12,000 rockets with ranges varying from 30 to 70 km, including Katyushas and Fajr (Dawn) rockets.
Other defence sources say Hizbollah also has longer range missiles. Asked about the claims, a source close to Hizbollah said: "Wait a few days and you'll find out."
(Additional reporting by Luke Baker in Jerusalem)
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