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Do Scud missiles really matter?

English.news.cn   2010-05-15 05:31:41 FeedbackPrintRSS

by Ren Ke

BEIRUT, May 14 (Xinhua) -- Since last month when Israel accused Syria of transferring Scud missiles to Hezbollah, the issue has not yet ended.

The United Sates renewed its sanctions against Syria last week, and later on Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama asked the Congress to approve 205 million U.S. dollars to help Israel deploy an anti-missile defense system, saying that the president recognizes the threat missiles and rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Do the Scud missiles really matter for the regional balance of power?

Analysts said Hezbollah has already had different long-range missiles so that Scuds are not so important for the party, and the issue is just a Syrian backfired game and Israeli tactics of diverting the international community's attention from the Jewish settlement projects and the stalled Middle East peace process.

SCUD MISSILES AND HEZBOLLAH'S ARSENAL

Scud is a series of tactical ballistic missiles deployed by the former Soviet Union since the 1960's. It became world wide famous in the 1991 Gulf War when Saddam Hussein's army launched almost 80 Scud missiles to its neighboring countries, but many of them were intercepted by the U.S.-made Patriot anti-missiles systems.

In the history of half a century, Scud missiles varied into four different types, with the ranges from 180 km to 550 km, and the payloads from 600 kg to 985 kg.

Although it is of high mobility as carried by vehicles, its big size, almost 12 meters long, make it easily found by high definition reconnaissance satellites.

When Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria of providing Scud missiles to Hezbollah, all the politicians in Lebanon denied the charges. Lebanese army chief Jean Kawaghi said that such a big missiles cannot be hidden or smuggled.

Hezbollah never comment on its weaponry, they always keep silent.

Amine Hoteit, a retired Lebanese general and now an independent security analyst, told Xinhua that Hezbollah did not need Scud missiles to hit Israel.

He added Hezbollah sources told him that the party has already had missiles with minimum ranges of 265 km, which can hit most of Israel's strategically important places.

Hezbollah's General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel in February that if it attacks Lebanon, the party will retaliate to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

Israel estimates that Hezbollah now has more than 40,000 different types of missiles, most of which are reportedly deployed in the Shiite-inhabited south Lebanon, from where Tel Aviv is only 130 km away, and Jerusalem 150 km.

"Scud is not the point. We cannot say Hezbollah has Scud missiles or not, but we can say the party has the ability to attack most part of Israel in the next war," said Hoteit.

During the last war with Israel in 2006, Hezbollah fired some 4, 000 rockets into northern Israel during the war, most of them the Soviet-made shorter range (20 km) 122 mm BM-21 models nicknamed Katyusha. They also fired a few longer range rockets at urban areas, and the larger warheads did a lot of damage and caused some casualties.

During the war, Hezbollah has reportedly acquired Iranian-made surface-to-surface missiles, namely Zelzal-2. Its accuracy is under 100 meters at their maximum range, which is estimated to be about 200 km, putting Tel Aviv within its range. Israeli Air Force during the war paid careful attention to hitting Zelzals, and has destroyed at least a dozen of them.

Perhaps Hezbollah has something else. Last week, the head of Israel's military intelligence research department, Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz said that Syria had also supplied M600 SS missiles, a Syrian copy of the Iranian Fateh-110, with 300-km range.

Hoteit said that Hezbollah's weapons play an important role in the regional balance of power. "If Hezbollah is strong, the war will be far away, but if the party is weak, the war will come tomorrow."

A BACKFIRED SYRIAN GAME?

Syria lost points in the aftermath of the Scud missiles issue, as the United States renewed its sanctions against Damascus for one more year, saying it supported terrorist groups and was pursuing weapons of mass destruction.

The White House will also help Israel deploy the Iron Dome anti- missile system, designed to intercept rockets with ranges between 5 and 70 km and artillery shells.

Hilal Khashan, chair of department of political studies and public administration at the American University of Beirut, said that now the United States has no longer discuss Scud missiles issues, as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently accused Syria of arming Hezbollah with sophisticated weaponry, without naming Scuds.

"Whether the Syrians have delivered the scuds or not is no longer the issue. The issue is what Hezbollah already has," Khashan said.

Khashan said that it was a backfired game played by the Syrians.

Israel's accusation is based on the satellite images that showed Syrian military transporters shipping Scud missiles in the direction of Lebanese border, so they assumed that Hezbollah received Scud missiles from Syria.

Khashan believed that the missiles are still inside Syria but along the Lebanese border.

"Israel thinks the missiles will change the regional balance of power. Syrians are politically acute, so that they will not commit such a blunder. They would not cross such violation from which they will pay heavily from Israel," said Khashan.

"The issue is that Syrians played a game, they want to create a controlled crisis to get the United States to engage and talk to Syrians," said Khashan.

Syria has long been suffering from stalled economic situations due to U.S. sanctions. Damascus longs for opportunities to reconcile with the United States, and indeed they were once coming closer.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the New Yorker published in February that Syria has renewed its sharing of intelligence on terrorism with the CIA and with Britain's MI6. The first U.S. ambassador to Syria since 2005 was also nominated by Obama in February, but recently the U.S. Congress held confirmation hearings.

Syria wants reconcile with U.S. with a controlled crisis, but unfortunately it has backfired on itself. Khashan said the Americans no longer brought issue of Hezbollah's Scud missiles, they brought Hezbollah's missile arsenal.

Hezbollah has constantly said its arsenal will not be discussed, as they will use it to defend Lebanon against any Israeli attacks. Syria, the party's backer beside Iran, does not want to see this as Hezbollah is Damascus' important counterweight to Israel.

Hoteit said the issue is also a wise move of Israel, which came after ties between Israel and the United States were strained by an announcement of new Israeli settlement plan in East Jerusalem made during a visit to the Jewish state by Vice President Joe Biden in March.

"They (the Israelis) want to divert the attention of the international community, especially the United States," said Hoteit.

Editor: Mu Xuequan
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