Babylon & Beyond

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SYRIA: Damascus denies Israeli allegations it transferred Scuds to Hezbollah

April 16, 2010 |  8:58 am


Syria has gone on the offensive since Israeli allegations that Damascus smuggled long-range Scud missiles to the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon surfaced last week, but it hasn't helped stem speculation about what it could mean for the prospects of regional war or Syria's newly patched-up relationship with the United States.

If the claims are true, Scud missiles would represent a significant upgrade from the Katyushas and other short-range rockets Hezbollah has used in the past, posing a threat to all major Israeli cities.

The Syrian Embassy in Washington released a statement Thursday accusing Israel of waging a "disinformation campaign" in order to sour Syrian-American relations, justify a possible Israeli offensive and distract world attention from its own weapons stockpiling.

So far, the allegations have not been confirmed by a third party. As Syria expert Joshua Landis pointed out in Foreign Policy on Thursday, Scuds are easily transportable and difficult to detect. Moreover, he wrote, previous Israeli intelligence on Iraqi Scud missiles during the Gulf War turned out to be useless.

"Because satellite intelligence on Scuds is unreliable, this is undoubtedly why both French and U.S. intelligence officers are loath to confirm Israeli claims about the Scuds," Landis wrote.

The accusations come at a particularly inopportune time for Damascus, which is preparing to welcome the first U.S. ambassador to Syria in five years.

"We are obviously increasingly concerned about the sophisticated weaponry that are, that is allegedly being transferred," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said during a news briefing. "We have expressed our concerns to those governments and believe that steps should be taken to reduce -- to reduce any risk and any danger of anything from happening."

The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial Friday urging Washington not to be discouraged in its diplomacy, which, the paper said, matters now more than ever:

"Israel and Syria each are warning that the other is preparing for war, raising concern about a new military conflict in the region and prompting Republican calls for President Obama to delay sending a U.S. ambassador to Damascus for the first time in five years. That would be a mistake. United States does not send ambassadors as a reward to countries for their behavior, but to provide tools for defusing crises precisely like this one."

Al Jazeera quoted analyst Ibrahim Darraji, a professor of international law at Damascus University who appeared to agree with the official Syrian line of accusing Israel of stoking regional fires.

The issue of whether the Israeli allegations were true seemed beside the point to Darraji.

"This will certainly prompt the Israeli decision-maker to think a thousand times before launching an attack on Hezbollah, Lebanon or Syria," he said, referring to the alleged weapons transfer. "Because in such a case Israeli installations will be shelled by such missiles." 

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: SCUD-2 of the Afghan National Army. Credit: Davric via Wikimedia Commons