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Scud Claim Tied to Regional Concerns, Experts Say

Israel's claim that Syria has supplied the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah with Scud missiles are tied to broader regional matters, especially Iran's nuclear program and the Middle East peace process, experts said in an Agence France-Presse report yesterday (see GSN, April 28).

Jerusalem could be endeavoring to shift the focus away from its divisive policy of building new settlements in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem, according to observers. Israel could also be seeking to justify a possible new attack on Hezbollah should international attempts to find a nonmilitary resolution to the Iranian nuclear impasse fail, said several experts.

"My fear is that by the beginning of next year, if the sanctions (against Iran) have not brought out results, the situation will be very different," said Paul Salem, head of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Lebanon.

"I fear that one way to contain Iran if sanctions and negotiations don't work would be to hit its allies outside Iran," Salem added. "And the biggest ally outside Iran is Hezbollah."

U.S. intelligence sources have been skeptical of Israel's Scud claims, though Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this week that Syria was providing Hezbollah with missiles of "ever increasing capability."

Salem said the Scud allegations could also be a part of an attempt to show Damascus that its close relationship with Tehran could have strategic consequences.

"Israel, the United States and others want Syria to move away from Iran and want it to reduce its support for Hezbollah," Salem said. "So such escalation can be understood politically because it makes sense.

"But What concerns me is that this type of escalation in the past has led to air raids, has sometimes led to war, so one cannot take it lightly," he said (Jocelyne Zablit, Agence France-Presse/Zawya, April 28).

Hezbollah yesterday fired back at Gates, the Associated Press reported.

"Our choice was and still is to secure all the arms of resistance that we can," said lawmaker Hassan Fadlallah. "There is a great difference between weapons that only serve invasions, occupations and aggressions, such as those of the United States and its ally Israel ... and weapons of an honorable resistance that liberates, protects and defends" (Zeina Karam, Associated Press/Los Angeles Times, April 28).

The senior U.N. diplomat in Lebanon, Michael Williams, told journalists yesterday that the region was not facing another outbreak of armed hostilities, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Williams said he had heard from officials in Beirut and in Jerusalem as well as from Hezbollah and felt certain that tensions were easing.

Hezbollah and Israel last went to war in 2006.

"I think there is too much at stake to lose for all the parties," Williams said following a face-to-face with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. "I think tensions have been high in the last few days. But I hope that those will lower now" (Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, April 28).

NTI Analysis

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