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Ron Ben-Yishai  

 

Why are they afraid?

Ron Ben-Yishai analyzes situation on northern front, Syrian and Lebanese concerns

Published: 04.29.10, 11:55 / Israel Opinion

Part 1 of analysis

 

The level of tension on the northern border remains high. The tensions grew sharply when Western intelligence agencies spotted the Syrian effort (encouraged and funded by Iran) to equip Hezbollah with Scud missiles to be deployed in northern Lebanon; The tension in the northern theater declined slightly, yet skyrocketed again when a Kuwaiti newspaper exposed the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah scheme.

 

Ever since the publication, the atmosphere in the north has increasingly resembled fuel vapors at risk of being ignited, especially as Lebanon and Syria fear that Israel would not accept the presence of heavy ballistic missiles in Hezbollah’s hands and will take offensive military action in order to lift the additional threat these missiles constitute against the Jewish State’s civilian and military home front.

 

By the way, this is the first time in global history where a sovereign state hands over heavy ballistic missiles to an armed militia and even trains its members on using them. The US secretary of defense just warned that Hezbollah possesses more rockets and missiles than most world governments.

 

We can say with much certainty that at this time Israel has no intention of striking in Lebanon or in Syria. It is quite clear that the limited number of Scud missiles that were apparently handed over from Syria to Hezbollah do not fundamentally boost the threat faced by the Israeli home front as result of the rocket and missile arsenal already possessed by Hezbollah.

 

In recent years, the Shiite group accumulated and prepared for action roughly 45,000 rockets and missiles of all types in fortified and camouflaged shelters. According to Hezbollah, this arsenal includes a few hundred heavy rockets and missiles with a range that enables them to hit every populated area in Israel – even south of Dimona – and a warhead weighing hundreds of kilograms that can cause as much damage as a Scud.

 

American messages

Some of these heavy rockets are even more dangerous than Scud missiles because they’re more accurate. The main difference between them and the Scuds is that because of the latter’s long range (especially Scud D missiles) they can be deployed in northern Lebanon, which is far away from the Israeli border, thereby make it harder for the Israeli Air Force to target them.

 

On the other hand, about 30 minutes and possibly more are required in order to prepare the Scud for launch using liquid fuel. During this time the missile is at risk of being spotted by Israel’s intelligence means and it can then be accurately targeted. This is unlike the heavy rockets, which use solid fuel possessed by Hezbollah and can be launched within minutes, with almost no preparation.

 

The bottom line is that as long as Hezbollah does not possess a large quantity of Scuds, they do not constitute what Israeli defense officials refer to as “balance-breaking weapons.”

 

In order to prevent the number of Scuds from growing into a major threat, Israel enlisted the help of the US Administration, which has conveyed and is conveying warning messages to Syria and Hezbollah; at the same time, Israel is making sure to convey reassuring messages to Syria and Lebanon in order to prevent a flare-up as result of “miscalculation” – that is, a situation whereby Syria and Hezbollah spot movements in Israeli territory and interpret them as preparations for an imminent Israeli strike – thereby being tempted to strike first.

 

For that reason, Army Chief Ashkenazi, Defense Minister Barak and Prime Minister Netanyahu recently made sure to publically declare that Israel has no intention of striking Syria or Lebanon, should Syria prevent the transfer of balance-breaking weapons to Hezbollah. This mostly refers to advanced anti-aircraft missiles as well as to a large quantity of advanced models of rockets and Scuds.

 

This issue is high on the defense minister’s agenda in his talks in Washington. Barak warned that Syria is supporting Hezbollah with weapon systems that may change the sensitive balance.

 

However, both the Syrians and the Lebanese governments are not relaxing. Syria - because the affair threatens to undermine its rapprochement with the US and may thwart the arrival of a new US ambassador to Damascus; Lebanon - because it fears Israeli reprisal over the deployment of Scuds in its territory. Yet the main reason for Syrian and Lebanese concerns is the assessments they receive from Iran.

 

What does Iran tell Syria and Lebanon? Read part 2 of analysis Thursday evening  

 

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