'Israel was close to war this winter'

By Anshel Pfeffer, April 15, 2010
Hizbollah men show off their missile arsenal in a Beirut march last year

Hizbollah men show off their missile arsenal in a Beirut march last year

Syria smuggled long-range missiles to Hizbollah in Lebanon earlier this year, leading to Israeli threats to attack the weapons convoys, it has emerged. Such an attack could have escalated into another war on Israel’s northern border.

According to a report on Monday in a Kuwaiti newspaper, Israeli and other Western intelligence agencies received information that Hizbollah members were being trained in Syria in the use of Scud missiles. These missiles, which have a range of over 300 kilometres, were used by Iraq in 1991 to attack Israeli cities and are much larger than the missiles Hizbollah currently holds. They would allow the Lebanese movement to attack almost any site in Israel.

Israel passed on messages through third parties that it would not stand by if Syria supplied Scuds to Hizbollah. According to the Kuwaiti report, the Americans also warned Syria that its actions could lead to an Israeli attack that may escalate into a full war. Syria seems to have ignored the warnings and this is the reason that the US has decided to postpone indefinitely returning its ambassador to Damascus.

The Israeli military’s working assumption is that Syria and Iran have agreed to supply Hizbollah with all types of weapons, including chemical warfare bombs and advanced anti-aircraft missiles.

Over the past two months, the threat of imminent war on Israel’s northern border has receded somewhat, although senior Israeli soldiers have said that Syria has not slowed down the transfer of arms to Hizbollah.

Hizbollah is estimated to be holding between 30-40,000 missiles obtained through Syria and Iran over the past few years, despite UN Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War and forbids arms shipments to Hizbollah.

Aside from the increase in the number and quality of these missiles, Israeli sources say that the main difference since 2006 is that Hizbollah’s missile forces are now under the direct control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their firing can only take place under direct orders from Tehran.

Last updated: 3:29pm, April 15 2010