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Update No: 076 - (30/04/10)

SCUDS Target US-Syrian Diplomatic Relations
There are renewed tensions between Israel, Lebanon and Syria, and the people of Lebanon are said to be panicking, fearing the start of another war in the region. Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs suggests that the Lebanese government is concerned by news that Syria has transferred Scud missiles to Hezbollah. The United States does not share the sense of urgency, because neither the CIA nor other Western intelligence agencies have yet been able to confirm that Syria has in fact supplied SCUD missiles to Hezbollah. The rumors have been spread by the Israeli media, yet, true or false as they may be, the rumors have succeeded in raising tensions in the region Egypt is suggesting that Israel is seeking excuses or sparks to launch an attack against Lebanon and possibly Syria, since it is directly implicated in the accusations. The principal doubt over the veracity of the report of the sale of SCUDS is that these are large rockets that are not easily transferable without been noticed.

The United States were the first to launch the alarm over the alleged SCUD move, and while Israel has used it as evidence of continued Syrian interference in Lebanon, even as the United States has recently re-established full diplomatic links. Syria has categorically denied the allegations, but Israel, which has an interest in slowing the diplomatic rapprochement that has been taking place between Syria and the United States (not to mention Syria and Turkey, France and Saudi Arabia), has used the SCUD to accuse Syria’s president Asad, raising regional tensions. Clearly, Israel will use the SCUD ‘incident’, real or perceived, to hold back US-Syrian relations and to perhaps even to embarrass president Obama, whose administration has demanded far more than Israel is willing to concede to resume the Middle East peace talks. The US hawkish, pro-Israel, media has also blown up the SCUD story to take a swipe at president Obama, who has infuriated conservatives with the passing of the health sector reforms. Barely, has Washington’s ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford been appointed to his new role, when a predictable part of the US media has published articles describing a supposed sharp increase of Syrian (and Iranian) weapons being supplied to Hezbollah.

Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, faced a very sceptical House panel answering questions related to the Obama administration's decision in February to send an ambassador to Damascus. Ambassador Ford is still awaiting confirmation by the full Senate and the SCUD incident is being used by very conservative elements to block the decision to re-establish full diplomatic relations with Syria. The very name SCUD conjures up images of the first Gulf War, when such rockets were launched against Israeli targets from Iraq. The SCUD in question has a range of 700 km and these rockets are capable of reaching any city in Israel from Lebanon as well as destroying Israeli aircraft, which regularly violate Lebanese airspace. This would be rather interesting strategic news, were it not for the fact that Hezbollah already has missiles capable of reaching Israeli unmanned aircraft and Israeli cities.

The Israeli ‘strategy’ of exploiting the SCUD incident to jeopardize US-Syrian relations, real or perceived as it may be, has already provided dividends. The Obama administration has been compelled to emphasize its commitment to defend and protect Israeli interests, warning Syria and Iran about the threats they pose to the Jewish State. Secretary of State Clinton cited the missile transfers as evidence of such a threat, while also noting the nuclear threat posed by Iran. Clinton was speaking to the American Jewish Committee, clearly aimed at reassuring American Jews, who have probably been left disconcerted in the past few months of tensions between Washington and Tel Aviv. Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, sent a clear warning to Damascus (addressing the same group later), made the same points as Clinton and said Israel was watching the situation closely and that it would hold President Asad responsible. Syria has responded that the SCUDS represent another Israeli fabrication to launch a war and to divert attention from its continued construction policy in Gaza and the West Bank. Surprisingly, Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri, the very same man who led an anti-Syrian campaign after Syria was blamed for the murder of his father, former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri has spoken out. Hariri believes that another Israeli attack on Lebanon would destroy the country, terminating any of the promises the younger Hariri has to attract voters during the campaign. The SCUD story has developed just as the damning Goldstone Report, outlining human rights violations during Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ operations in January-February 2009.

The SCUDS are being played for full effect, in what may be a smaller scale repeat of the Hariri murder case against Syria, which was never and has yet to be proven. Moreover, SCUD missiles are hardly the sort of weapon that a guerrilla movement might choose, given their bulk, not to mention the fact that Lebanon has better missiles already. While war is unlikely in the short term, the SCUD allegations, will still lead to concerns that a new war might be looming. As for the United States, in spite of the discordant fanfare, it seems the Obama administration is also sceptical of the SCUD hullaballoo. Secretary Clinton might have sent warnings, but there are no signs that Obama will reverse the diplomatic course it has set with Damascus. The latest détente measures from the US, include the approval of exports of American Internet technology to Syria, the lifting of Syria from the additional airport security measures launched in the wake of the alleged Christmas bomb plot in a Detroit bound airliner; and the approval of U.S. visas for Syrian nationals. Nevertheless, the SCUD story suggests that there are many (if the usual) currents in the United States, already targeting the Syrian rapprochement. Good relations with Syria are a threat to the established US-Middle East lobbying concerns, especially as many in the US administration are frustrated by the Netanyahu government’s intransigence vis-à-vis the continued construction of Israeli settlements. However, the US is also interested in trying to accelerate a cut in Syria’s ties to Hezbollah, especially as the Lebanese government of Saad Hariri, the very same who helped bring about Syria’s isolation in the aftermath of his father’s murder in February 2005, has been improving ties to Hezbollah and Syria.  
 

 

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