The flap over the Scud missiles Syria has been accused of transferring to Hezbollah has now lasted the better part of the month driven by a string of leaks and mutual recriminations, as both the Israelis and the Syrians have ratcheted up their rhetoric and threatened to send the other back to the Stone Age.
It began with a report in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai and allegations leveled by Israeli President Shimon Peres that Syria had smuggled long-range missiles known as Scuds into Lebanon for Hezbollah, and was soon followed by leaks from American and Israeli officials.The story has sparked fears of yet another war in the region, and has complicated the American efforts to reach out to Syria that have been underway in Washington.
With a range of nearly 500 miles, Scud missiles could conceivably give Hezbollah the ability to hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as Israel’s nuclear installations.
If true, the transfer of Scuds to this country would, according to the US State Department, “pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon.”
According to Riad Kahwaji, the CEO of Inegma, a private Middle East think tank specializing in geopolitical affairs and military analysis, “If Hezbollah actually received such a missile, then we are looking at a new ball game…a different level of alliance between Hezbollah, Syria and Iran and an intention of escalation.”
However, Kahwaji questioned whether acquiring Scuds made sense for Hezbollah, and indeed, serious doubts have been cast on the accusations as of late, with even the White House throwing cold water on the story. Reuters reported last week that while “Washington believes Syrian was moving towards transferring more sophisticated Scuds to Hezbollah…two US officials said there were ‘no indications’ any Scud rockets were transported into Lebanon, which would sharply escalate the risk of a conflict.”
According to Kahwaji the problems with reports of Hezbollah acquiring Scuds begins with the missiles’ size, which means “they are difficult to hide. We are talking about a 14 meter-long missile…This is not like a Katyusha [rocket] that you can put in the truck of a car.”
Moreover, Kahwaji told NOW Lebanon that that the missiles are dangerous and complicated to operate. “This is a liquid fuel missile, which means that you have to put in the fuel just before firing it. This is a very difficult matter, because the fuel itself is very volatile… and flammable, and carrying it around is a very hard task.”
That difficulty means that extensive training is needed to operate such missiles, which require crews of at least half a dozen and take “one hour to prepare before they can be fired.”
Such a labor- and time-intensive process runs counter to the flexible guerilla warfare tactics Hezbollah has practiced in past battles with Israel.
During the 2006 July War, for instance, Hezbollah was able to establish a “simple and effective system” for firing Katyusha rockets into Israel. Using small, rapidly deployable squads, the entire process for firing a Katyusha was said to take “less than 28 seconds with many of the rocket squads riding bicycles to the launch location. The vast majority of the rocket systems were hidden in underground caches and bunkers built to withstand precision air and artillery strikes,” according to Matt M. Matthews of the Combat Studies Institute in We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War.
Scuds, in contrast, can be easily detected from the air and destroyed, Kahwaji said. “In a narrow area like Lebanon, it is not easy to hide and transport [such missiles], especially when you have satellite and reconnaissance planes over Lebanese skies around the clock.”
(nowlebanon.com) republishing Rights