U.S. national-security officials say they have no confirmation of Israeli claims that Syria has delivered or is in the process of delivering new, longer-range Scud missiles to the radical Lebanese Shiite group Hizbullah. Although Syria may have begun making preparations to do so, U.S. intelligence reporting indicates that no such shipments have actually occurred, two senior U.S. officials tell Declassified, requesting anonymity when discussing sensitive information. According to the officials, the U.S. government's assessment is that Israelis' public complaints were a ploy to deter the Syrians from going ahead with the deliveries—a strategy that's working so far, the U.S. government believes.
The complaints were voiced earlier this month by Israel's president and former prime minister, Shimon Peres. "Syria claims that it wants peace, while simultaneously delivering Scud missiles to Hizbullah, which is constantly threatening the security of the state of Israel," The Washington Post quoted him as telling Israel Radio. And he later reiterated the claim on a trip to Paris, telling French Prime Minister François Fillon: "Syria is playing a double game. On the one hand it talks peace, yet at the same time it hands over accurate Scud missiles to Hizbullah so that it can threaten Israel." The missiles have a range of more than 400 miles and could affect the region's military balance if deployed in Lebanon.
The Obama administration's public comments on the alleged shipments have been ambiguous. On Monday the State Department summoned Syria's ranking diplomat in Washington to complain about Damascus's "provocative behavior." "The United States condemns in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the Scud, from Syria to Hezbollah," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said in a written statement. But Duguid stopped short of accusing Syria of actually making the deliveries, and according to the U.S. officials who spoke to Declassified, there have been no shipments as yet.
The Syrian government and Lebanese officials have also denied that any missiles have been sent to Lebanon. Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri compared the Israeli complaints to the U.S. claims that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq. "These accusations are reminiscent of the 'weapons of mass destruction' allegations against Saddam Hussein," Hariri told the Italian newspaper La Stampa. "They were never found; they did not exist."
Asked whether U.S. government experts believe that Israel made a fuss about the alleged missile shipments—and exaggerated how far the Syrians had gone—in order to send Damascus a message against carrying out the transfer, a senior Obama administration official says simply: "Yes." And Damascus appears to have heeded the warning, the official confirms. Another senior U.S. official cites Israel's September 2007 airstrike against a suspected but uncompleted Syrian nuclear facility. In the opinion of many U.S. experts, the official says, Israel's military would have already taken action to neutralize the threat if there were hard evidence that Hizbullah had obtained Scuds.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington did not respond to a message from Declassified requesting comment.