Syria is helping Hizbullah stockpile “far more rockets and missiles than most governments in the world,” U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday at a joint press conference with visiting Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Without specifically mentioning the Scud missile, which Hizbullah reportedly is adding to its arsenal with Syria’s and Iran’s help, Secretary Gates stated, "Syria and Iran are providing Hizbullah with rockets and missiles of ever-increasing capability… and this is obviously destabilizing for the whole region.”
His comments came at the same time that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has tried to assure Lebanon that Israel has no intention of attacking Hizbullah. The latter's forces have blended in with the Lebanese army to the level that Prime Minister Netanyahu said it is hard to distinguish between the two.
Defense Minister Barak (pictured at left with Gates) also tried to soothe fears, saying at the press conference that "we do not intend to provoke any kind of major clash in Lebanon or vis-a-vis Syria.” Israel and Hizbullah fought the 34-day Second Lebanon War in 2006, which ended with United Nations guarantees that Hizbullah would be disarmed. However, commanders of UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said at the outset that they were not able to carry out the mandate.
The United Nations has ignored most of Israel’s appeals to put a stop to Hizbullah’s smuggling of missiles, which now number three or four times the 20,000 missiles it possessed before the war and which are far more sophisticated. The Scud missile, used by Iraq against Israel in the 1991 Gulf War, can easily strike Tel Aviv from Lebanon.
Although the United States has not confirmed that Hizbullah has Scuds, the reports on their being shipped by Syria actually may have been leaked by the United States in order to put pressure on UNIFIL. Hizbullah’s dominance in southern Lebanon and its alliance with the Lebanese government would make any counterterrorist measures or diplomatic moves ineffective.
Following the report last week, which was confirmed by President Shimon Peres, the U.S. State Department summoned Syria’s chief of mission for a warning of Damascus’ “provocative behavior,” but Syria has rejected all accusations.