THE LEBANESE SCUD MISSILES & SYRIA: A COMMENT
"We have expressed directly to the Syrian Government, including calling in the representative of their embassy in Washington to express in the strongest possible terms, our concerns about these stories that do suggest there has been some transfer of weapons technology into Syria with the potential purpose of then later transferring it to Hezbollah inside Lebanon.
I think that the larger question as to what the United States will do with respect to Syria is one we’ve spent a lot of time considering and debating inside the Administration. Where we are as of today is that we believe it is important to continue the process to return an ambassador. This is not some kind of reward for the Syrians and the actions that they take, which are deeply disturbing not only to the United States and not just to Israel but to others in the region and beyond. But it’s a tool. It’s a tool that we believe can give us extra leverage, added insight, analysis, information with respect to Syria’s actions and intentions.
We would like to have a more balanced and positive relationship with Syria, as do other of its neighbors from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. We would like to see Syria play a more constructive role and engage in an effort to resolve its outstanding conflict with Israel. We would like to see Syria refrain from interfering in and potentially destabilizing the Government of Lebanon. So we have a long list of areas that we have discussed with the Syrians, and we intend to continue pushing our concerns. And we think having an ambassador there adds to the ability to convey that message strongly, and hopefully influence behavior in Syria".
Hillary Rodman Clinton, "Remarks with the Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet After their Meeting," 22 April 2010, in www.state.gov.
"The government of Syria categorically denies the recent spurious allegations emanating from Israel regarding the supply of Scud missiles to Hezbollah. This disinformation campaign aims at misleading the world’s public opinion.
The Embassy of Syria in Washington finds that these allegations are an attempt to:
1- Raise the level of tension in the region.
2- Justify a possible Israeli offensive and conflagration of violence.
3- Shatter any prospects for a future comprehensive peace proposal.
….Official Statement put out by the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC 16 April 2010, courtesy of www.syriacomment.com
"Has Syria supplied Hezbollah with Scud missiles? The short answer is that we don’t really know. The story was first announced by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who told journalists earlier this week, “Syria claims that it wants peace, while simultaneously delivering Scud missiles to Hezbollah, which is constantly threatening the security of the state of Israel.” The Wall Street Journal went further than the Israeli press by claiming that “U.S. officials” as well as Israelis have alleged that Scuds have been transferred from Syria into Lebanon. The Washington Post, however, took a more cautious stand. It quoted a U.S. official briefed on the matter to say, “I don’t think we know whether they’ve gone over or not.” The New York Times followed suit by explaining that “American and French officials have both said that they were aware of the Israeli concerns but did not know whether the missiles had actually been delivered....
The larger question, however, is not whether Syria has delivered Scuds to Hezbollah. Syria has been rebuilding Hezbollah’s missile supplies ever since they were largely exhausted during Israel’s 2006 incursion into Lebanon. It will continue to do so as long as Israel refuses to trade land for peace. Syria says it will no longer have any reason to arm Hezbollah once it gets the Golan back and can sign a peace agreement with Israel.
Syria understands that the reason Israel will not return the Golan Heights is because of the terrible imbalance in power between the two countries. So long as there is no peace, Syria will feel compelled to arm itself and its allies. Only this week at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, we were reminded that Israel has hundreds of atomic warheads that can be delivered by missile, plane, and submarine. What’s more, Washington continues to supply Israel with large amounts of military aid and cutting-edge military technology. Israel accuses Syria of trying to change the balance of power by introducing Scuds to Lebanon, but from Syria’s point of view, it is Israel that has skewed the regional balance.
Israeli officials, when faced with the Golan question in private or at conferences, explain that the reason Israel refuses to strike a deal with Syria is that the country is too weak. It has nothing to give Israel in exchange for the Golan, which has been Israel’s quietest border for 35 years. In the face of this debilitating weakness, Syria will do what all weak states do: find powerful allies and try to arm itself. It must also rely on nonstate actors, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. In short, it will struggle to right the balance of power. Some commentators have argued that Syria ought to simply renounce its current path, make a rapproachment with the West, and by doing so get back the Golan and normalized relations. But the notion that Israel would give Syria back the Golan if it renounces Hezbollah and Iran is naive. The Palestine Liberation Organization renounced violence some time ago and has little to show for it".
Joshua Landis, "What is behind the Scud scare?" 15 April 2010, in www.foreignpolicy.com
The recent contretemps concerning the alleged delivery of Scud missiles to Hezbollah in the Lebanon, is of a piece with the ongoing tensions between both the former and Israel as well as (and perhaps more importantly),Israel and Syria. What the entire episode or should we say series of episodes, including the threatening language and demarches being sent back and forth between Tel Aviv and Damascus this year, is that Syria is deeply unhappy about its lack of progress with the new American Administration over the non-progress over the Golan Heights. Indeed, Syria does have a right to be worried, inasmuch as it is scarcely believable that the current Israeli government will anytime soon relinquish its hold on Golan. As Joshua Landis notes, there is at present no rationale for Israel to give-up the Golan. The current military balance is heavily weighted in its favor and there is nothing, rien, zero, that Assad Fils, can do about it. Hence, the threatening 'noises off', type of machinations that we have seen this year. With Assad's verbal threats that a war is a possibility, and, that even a bilateral Israel-Hezbollah conflict would eventually involve Syria. Et cetera. Does any of this seem credible or likely? My own surmise is the following: a) Syria has most definitely increased shipments of weapons to Hezbollah as Joshua Landis states, of that there is no doubt; b) it is unlikely that Syria has delivered Scud missiles to Hezbollah, if only due to the fact that Damascus knows quite well that if discovered, Israel would in short order: i) destroy them, or at least try; ii) inflict huge damage to Hezbollah and the Lebanon in the attempt; iii) most likely inflict major damage to 'hard targets' in Syria proper. Which given its current military capacity, Damascus would be unable to respond to effectively if at all. However, Damascus is quite content to play-up the Scud Missiles shipment to Hezbollah story for all its worth for the following reason (and indeed it is quite probable that it was Syria itself who first planted on Israeli intelligence the idea that there was such a shipment): in order to scare sufficiently the American administration, so that the latter will break-out of its diplomatic holding pattern, and, bring forth some real movement in the peace process between Syria and Israel, leading to the return of the Golan to Damascus. Dangerous and indeed almost foolhardy you say? Quite. That per se, does not make it any less possibly true. Damascus for example, knows that if there is one party who is more afraid of a conflagration in the Near East at the moment it is the American Administration. Locked in a stalement with both Persia and the Netanyahu government, the high hopes of sixteen months ago have come to naught. However, even the current deadlock will seem halcyon if another war were to break-out between Israel and Hezbollah. Indeed, for the current crew in Washington, DC., such a conflict will be almost nightmarish. And, I am reasonably sure that this fear has most definitely communicated itself to Assad Fils. Therefore, why not engage in a little exercise in coup de tete with the Americans, and, invent a 'Scuds to Hezbollah' scare in order to hopefully get the Americans to produce some movement in the dormant negotiations between Syria and Israel? If this is in fact the case of what is actually occurring, one only hopes that the regime in Damascus remembers that exercises of this type, can under certain circumstances assume a negative dynamic of its own. The results in the case of that occurring would indeed be not at all to the good. Especially for Assad Fils own good.