Report: Syria arms Hezbollah with Scud missiles
According to Kuwaiti newspaper, Syrian army transferred medium-long range Scud missiles to Shiite group in Lebanon, trained operatives on weapons' operation. Strategic balance hasn't been broken, however Hezbollah has become only non-governmental body to hold ballistic missiles
According to the report, which is based on American sources in Washington, Israeli and Western intelligence services have discovered that the Syrian army has been training Hezbollah operatives on how to operate a line of missiles from Syria's weapons arsenal including anti-aircraft and medium-long range Scud missiles.
The US sources told the paper that Israel has warned Syria, via Turkey and Qatar, of its intention to bomb Lebanese and Syrian targets should the missiles cross the border and reach Hezbollah. The Syrian ambassador to Washington was summoned for a talk.
The al-Rai paper further reported that US Senator John Kerry met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, who denied the reports. However, Assad did not convince the Americans, who fear that the transfer of missiles would lead to a regional war, especially if Israel should decide to act on its threat.
It should be noted that the Scud shipment has not changed the military balance as Hezbollah already possess long and medium range missiles and rockets which could go as far as Beersheba. However, the transfer bears a symbolic significance boosting the Shiite group's confidence since the only bodies which hold surface-to-surface ballistic missiles are sovereign states.
Hezbollah has therefore become the only non-governmental organization in the world to hold such weapons. One can assume had the missiles been "tie-breaking weapons," the IDF would have already taken action. It should also be noted that Israel is currently abstaining from taking any step which would divert international focus from Iran sanctions.
Scud missiles in South Korea (Photo: Reuters)
The Scud missile is designated to hit population centers in the Tel Aviv Metropolitan area or Haifa. According to the Kuwaiti report, the missiles transferred to Hezbollah are not state-of-the-art and are apparently stationed deep inside Lebanon for fear of an Israel Air-Force strike.
Syria has transferred some 45,000 rockets and missiles to Hezbollah in the past, including anti-tank missiles meant to fend off the Israel Armored Corps. Nevertheless, Hezbollah's new weapons have one great disadvantage – they are easily detected and targeted from the air.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, Assad and Israel know that what the Shiite group really lacks is an effective anti-aircraft weapon to neutralize the main threat on the group's military layout.
Kerry and Assad in Damascus (Photo: AFP)
Second Lebanon War lessons
It was reported last month that Defense Minister Ehud Barak discussed the transfer of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah during his Washington visit. It is likely that Barak, who fears a "tie-breaking weapon" in Lebanon, was referring to anti-aircraft systems which Hezbollah is after, having drawn lessons from the Second Lebanon War.
At the time, the group was armed with light shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles which were unable to seriously target the IAF. Hezbollah is therefore interested in obtaining heavy, sophisticated and long-range anti-aircraft systems such as radar detectors, radar-guided missile batteries and cannons which could damage the IAF's aerial and intelligence freedom in Lebanon.
It should be noted that Arab and Western media recently reported that Hezbollah operatives have been training in Syria on using SA-8 man-portable anti-aircraft batteries which can target jets and helicopters at low and medium altitude.
The reports further noted that Syria may arm Hezbollah with such weapons violating UN Security Council's 1701 resolution which ended the Second Lebanon War. Officials in the defense establishment refused to deny or confirm such reports, however Israel has alluded in the past that it won't accept the transfer of such weapons to the Shiite group.
Roee Nahmias contributed to this report