As the threats increase daily and war between Lebanon and Israel seems more and more likely, one gets the impression that relations between the troubled neighbors are reaching 2006 levels. Not only has the Lebanese aligned itself with Hezbollah in the event of an Israeli attack, but Syria, Iran and Hamas have all pledged common aid against Israeli aggression. Though the rhetoric seemed to have diminished for a while, reports that Syria has delivered SCUD missiles to Hezbollah have reignited fears of a regional war.
Israel reported a while ago that it had proof that Damascus was sending SCUD missiles to Hezbollah. Of course, the delivery of SCUDs would be troublesome for Israel as the missiles can reach anywhere in Israel and carry a 1 ton capacity – such a change in Hezbollah’s arsenal could easily lead to an Israeli preemptive attack. Yet, the US remains unsure whether Hezbollah has actually received the SCUD missiles, while Jean Kahwaji, the Lebanese Army Head, denied the existence of SCUDs in Lebanon. Lebanese PM Saad Hariri recently said that the accusation that SCUDs reached Hezbollah was similar to the accusation of WMDs that led to the invasion of Iraq (with obvious implications as to the true means of the accusations); Egyptian FM Ahmed Abdul Gheit has also dismissed the SCUD notion as ‘laughable.’
So are there SCUDs in Lebanon? Who knows. But as Abu Maqawama points out, the mere possibility of Hezbollah having such weapons could lead to war:
The problem with this, of course, is that the next Israel-Lebanon war starts when either a) Hizballah or Israel does something stupid or b) Hizballah acquires “equilibrium-breaking” weaponry like powerful long-range rockets or anti-aircraft weaponry. Israel might decide, in the event of the latter, that it must act preemptively and that the very fact that Hizballah possesses such weapons is casus belli enough.
So everyone hold your breath. Because this is how wars start.
Tensions, meanwhile, continue to climb in neighboring Damascus as well. After an Israeli minister said that Syria would be sent “back to the stone age” if Hezbollah launched ballistic missiles, Syria retorted that it would “send Israel back to the era of the prehistoric man,” threatening to use unconventional weapons if Israel uses similar methods against Syria (what is before prehistoric man? Will Israel turn Syrians into dinosaurs?). Of course, there are also the near daily calls for a regime change in Syria.
Moreover, there seems to be some severe confusion about the role of the US in the Syrian-Israeli rhetorical battle. Not only was Robert Ford’s nomination for Ambassador to Syria delayed (even further thanks to the SCUD issue) recently, but there is a major intelligence issue for the US (one that would be at least slightly clarified by the diplomatic presence in Damascus, I might add). As Josh Landis points out, the US is inexplicably, yet genuinely confused about the continuation of Syrian support for Hezbollah: why is Syria is putting Syrian interests above American interests? America seems to think the continued support for Hezbollah is to: a) increase Syria’s hand in negotiations with Israel; b) Syria doesn’t want to negotiate and is simply preparing for war; or c) Assad cannot simply extract himself from his commitments to Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah. But, as Landis says, the real reason is most likely based on the Syrian desire to get Syrian Golan Heights back from Israel.
Now, back in Lebanon, American ambassador Michele Sison has met with Hariri and Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri about the shipments of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah. Arab press reported that Sison showed the two Lebanese leaders photos of truckloads of weapons making their way into Lebanon and that Sison warned that the US deterred Israel from attacking the shipments. American officials have said that a meeting between Sison and Hariri and Berri did take place, but no photos were shown and the idea that the US deterred Israel was “bullshit.”
[tweetmeme] So where does this leave Lebanon, Syria and the Middle East in general. SCUDs may be in Lebanon, but probably not; Syria is still supporting Hezbollah, which seems to only surprise the US; Syria still wants its territory back; and Israel is worried about longer range missile attacks from Syria and Lebanon. Despite all of the noise coming from the region, nothing has really changed. War could break out at any moment – like before – and it would likely involve most of the Middle East – like before.
Perhaps the only real interesting development is the type or threats being thrown back and forth between Damascus and Tel Aviv. If this continues, we might have a Jurassic Park situation on our hands.