U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Senator Diane Feinstein warned Tuesday, "There is a likelihood that there are Scuds that Hizbullah has in Lebanon – a high likelihood.” She added, “The rockets and missiles in Lebanon are substantially increased and better technologically than they were and this is a real point of danger for Israel."
She spoke several hours after the State Department said it still is investigating reports that Syria transferred the deadly long-range missiles to Hizbullah terrorists although officials summoned the Syrian deputy chief of mission in Washington over the issue.
"This was the fourth occasion on which these concerns have been raised to the Syrian Embassy in recent months, intended to further amplify our messages communicated to the Syrian government," stated State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid.
Last week, President Shimon Peres confirmed reports that first appeared in a Kuwaiti newspaper that the missiles were transferred and American officials later agreed until the State Department began to backtrack Tuesday.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters at the daily press briefing that, “We are still looking into it. We haven’t reached any particular judgment at this point as to whether any transfer has taken place.”
It is widely accepted that Lebanon has not stopped Hizbullah from smuggling tens of thousands of Katyusha missiles into Lebanon, in violation of United Nations Security Council ceasefire resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The resolution, accepted by Israel and Lebanon, banned foreign armies from being armed in the country, but United Nations Interim Forces (UNIFIL) said at the outset they could not and would not enforce the clause.
Crowley ignored a pointed question by one reporter Tuesday, who asked, “Do we have proof that Syria is providing arms to Hizbullah, not SCUD missiles?”
Other reporters pounced on the United States for not accepting Lebanese and Syria denials that Scuds have reached Hizbullah and tried to put the blame on Israel for escalating tensions. “You are blaming a coalition that is taking place between Syria and Lebanon to defend their existence against aggressive Israel, when at the same time an Israeli minister…has threatened that Israel was going to bomb Syria to take it back to the stone age,” one reporter told Crowley.
When asked about the credibility of Israeli reports, the spokesman was noncommittal, saying, “There have been reports. It’s one of the reasons you people have been asking this question. And – but this is the context behind the meeting we had last night” with Syrian officials.
Resolution 1701 includes a clause that foreign armies can arm themselves with Lebanon’s permission. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has raised the fear that the increasing alliance between Beirut and Hizbullah has eroded any difference between military forces.
One reporter raised the possibility that Lebanon would acquire Scud missiles from Syria, but Crowley answered, “Let’s not get into hypothetical.”