Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What the Scud crisis revealed


by  Hussain Abdul-Hussain

The question as to whether Hezbollah has received Scud missiles from Syria remains unanswered. What is clear is that the crisis reinforced the fact that Hezbollah remains the sovereign power in Lebanon, a situation that Syria is keen to exploit, while the Lebanese state has gone on a walkabout.

It has long been known that Hezbollah was replenishing most of its depleted weapons stock after the 2006 July War. One UN report after another has highlighted the Syrian-Hezbollah breach of Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701.

In September 2009, the intelligence community in Washington was circulating substantiated reports about Syrian training of Hezbollah fighters on launching anti-aircraft missiles. In mid-January 2010, I published a story about this activity and reported that intelligence had proof that trucks of missiles were stationed on the Syrian side of the Lebanese border, with Damascus reluctant to order the trucks in after receiving indirect threats from Tel Aviv that such a step would put Syria at risk of Israeli retribution. The story received little reaction but also no denial at the time.

By mid-February 2010, the missiles had literally disappeared off the radar, which meant that they had either found their way to Hezbollah, or had been sent back to Syrian army depots. The State Department officially warned the Syrians against potentially shipping the missiles to Hezbollah on February 26.

On April 10, I reported the US warning to Syria, and retold the training story as the background. I also wrote that the prevailing thinking was that the missiles were Scud-D, and had most probably been shipped into Lebanon.

This time, all hell broke loose.

Newer reports have now surfaced that the missiles are actually M-600s, the Syrian version of the Iranian Fateh-110, rather than Scud-Ds. Whether the rockets actually made it into the hands of Hezbollah’s fighters could not be verified.

Be that as it may, the crisis has highlighted several issues: first, Syria lies. Its ambassador to the US, Imad Mustafa, denied that the State Department had summoned him to warn against Syrian shipments of arms to Hezbollah, prompting US officials to come out against Mustafa’s theatrics and show that Syrian diplomats were sent, on four occasions, starting February 26.

Second, Syria’s duplicity cannot be ignored anymore. While Hezbollah boasts a growing rocket arsenal, Syria prefers to stir problems in private, and volunteers to solve them in public. Hezbollah was not bothered by the Scud leak. Syria, however, went ballistic on journalists, accusing them of fabricating the story in Israel’s interest.

And herein lays a Syrian dilemma. Syria supports war with Israel as long as it can exploit such populist rhetoric domestically. When it comes to actual confrontation, whether with Israel or the West, Syria – unlike Hezbollah – will duck and avoid getting involved.

If Syria supports what it always describes as legitimate Resistance movements, then it should admit that it arms Hezbollah. However, if Syria believes that news reports on its arming Hezbollah were fabricated by pro-Israeli journalists, then Syria should tell the Arab street that it is not supporting the Resistance.

Third, Arab diplomacy is always a case of too little too late. A number of Arab officials argued that Scuds could not have been shipped to Hezbollah and remained unnoticed. The argument is irrelevant. Either Arab capitals are opposed to Iran’s arming of Hezbollah through Syria, which increases the risk of an Israeli war on Lebanon, or the Arabs support a Lebanese-Israeli confrontation, which – like all previous rounds – they will watch from the comfort of their air-conditioned living rooms. The kind of the missiles, their range, their warhead capacities and their accuracy rates were not the issue. The issue was Hezbollah’s armament in defiance of resolutions 1559 and 1701. Arab capitals should have given an honest opinion whether they approve of arming Hezbollah or not.

Fourth, Lebanese officials watched the missile crisis unfold before their eyes, and did nothing. This inability to act by every elected Lebanese official is their own doing. Lebanese politicians are always consumed by their endless bickering, and never willing to act as independent and sovereign officials. Pressure applied by Syria and/or Hezbollah is no excuse. Unfavorable regional or international circumstances are no justification either. If the Lebanese state is ever to become sovereign, its officials should step up to the plate and take some responsibility.
Opportunism has become the staple of every Lebanese politician, and aspiring politicians. None of the Lebanese officials, whether in the legislative or executive branches, are willing to take any stance that might jeopardize their fortunes of staying in office.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, nearly two years after his election, remains as ineffective as ever. The rest of the Lebanese bureaucracy, especially Lebanon’s diplomats in the world’s major capitals, are all reaping the benefits of their jobs, but are never willing to take risks. Instead of showing resolve, Sleiman, ministers and ambassadors, among others, all treat public office as a retirement plan.

The Scud missile crisis might have shown Israel’s short fuse and hot temper. Israel believes that it has to remain a bully or risk being annihilated. But whatever Israel does will never justify Arab and Lebanese unwillingness to take their destiny into their own hands by standing up to Hezbollah and Syria and stopping their reckless and selfish behavior.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a visiting fellow at Chatham House and a correspondent for Al-Rai newspaper.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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