Washington, Damascus, Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- Tension between Washington and Damascus intensified yesterday over Syria allegedly providing Hezbollah with Scud ballistic missiles, after the US State Department summoned Syria’s top diplomat in Washington, Zuhair Jabbour, to discuss this issue. Although the US has not been able to confirm reports that Syria is providing Hezbollah with Scud missiles, it described “the potential transfer” of arms to Hezbollah as being “provocative behaviour.” A statement issued on Monday night by the US State Department condemned any potential transfer of arms from Syria to Hezbollah.
US State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid revealed that “the most senior Syrian diplomat present in Washington today, Deputy Chief of Mission Zuhair Jabbour, was summoned to the Department of State to review Syria’s provocative behaviour concerning the potential transfer of arms to Hezbollah.” He added that “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” and that “we call for an immediate cessation of any arms transfers to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in the region.”
Duguid said that “Syria’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is directly related to its support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.” He also stressed that this is the fourth time that that the US has raised these concerns to the Syrian Embassy in recent months, and that “our dialogue with Syria on this issue has been frank and sustained. We expect the same in return.”
This strongly worded statement was issued at the same time that questions are being raised over the feasibility of efforts being exerted by US President Barack Obama to improve relations with Syria, as well as the possibility of achieving progress in the Middle East Peace file. Duguid warned against the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, as “the transfer of these arms can only have a destabilizing effect on the region, and would pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon.”
Duguid said that “the risk of miscalculation that could result from this type of escalation should make Syria reverse the ill-conceived policy it has pursued in providing arms to Hezbollah.” He also stressed that “All states have an obligation under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to prevent the importation of any weapons into Lebanon except as authorized by the Lebanese government.”
A US State Department official informed Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday that “we are looking into this issue and we have raised it with the Syrians.” The official also said that the issue of arms remains top of the agenda that is being discussed by US officials with their Syrian counterparts.
Commenting on Washington summoning Zuhair Jabbour “to review Syria’s provocative behaviour concerning the potential transfer of arms to Hezbollah,” Damascus expressed its regret on Tuesday that “the US administration is repeating Israeli allegations of Syria providing Hezbollah with Scud missiles.”
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bushra Kanafani told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we believe that the US administration had made a big mistake by adopting allegations that have no validity and ignoring the motivations behind such allegations.” She added “this does not help the development of Syrian – US relations, but rather increases the gap in trust between the two countries.”
Bushra Kanafani also said that the US administration is talking about “potential transfer of arms” and that this is “based solely upon…Israeli reports, and the Israeli motive is very clear, but they [the US administration] are not paying attention to this.” As for the reasons behind these motives, Kanafani told Asharq Al-Awsat that Syria has already strongly denied these Israeli allegations, and that Israel is aiming to create tension in the region in order to create a climate that provides a possibility for Israeli aggression.
For his part, Ahmed Salqini, spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in Washington also denied that his country was providing Hezbollah with Scud missiles. Salqini told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Syria maintains its position of denying and condemning these fabricated Israeli accusations, and it regrets the US adoption of such alleged stories.”
He added “we stress that the purpose behind such stories is to create a pretext and increase the state of tension in the region in preparation for potential Israeli aggression.” Salqini also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “if there are weapons in the region that threaten its stability and represents a threat to its security then it is the US-funded Israeli weapons that are pointed at our occupied population in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.”
For his part, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for “the immediate and unconditional respect of the arms embargo on Lebanon which is a fundamental aspect of resolution 1701.”
In his report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, Ban Ki-Moon confirmed that the UN has received reports about weapons being transferred “across the land borders.” He said “I am concerned that such activities have the potential to destabilize the country and could lead to another conflict” and he called on all parties to respect UN resolution 1701.
In the report, Ban Ki-Moon also said that “the existence of armed groups outside of governmental control is a fundamental anomaly that stands against the democratic aspirations of Lebanon and threatens domestic peace. It is also an obstacle to the prosperity and welfare that the Lebanese people deserve.”
While confirming that the UN is concerned about the reports of arms smuggling in the area, the UN Secretary-General acknowledged that the UN “does not have the means to independently verify” these reports.
There was widespread concern in Beirut over Israel using allegations that Hezbollah is in possession of Scud missiles as a pretext to launch aggression against Lebanon. During a meeting with the head of the Phalange party Amine Gemayel, Spanish Ambassador to Lebanon, Juan Carlos Gafo said that accusations that Damascus is providing Hezbollah with Scud missiles “is not based on evidence.” He added ‘I believe this is an Israeli accusation, and this accusation must be based upon evidence, and the international forces that are present [in Lebanon] are authorized to carry out investigations, however to my knowledge there is no evidence that Scud missiles reached Hezbollah.”
For his part, a Hezbollah official in southern Lebanon, Sheikh Nabil Farouk, confirmed that “these days Israel is drowning in a sea of horror from the capabilities of the resistance, and it does not fear anything in the region except the resistance.” He added that “the weapons that the resistance is in possession of will remain a secret and a surprise, and they will cause grief in the hearts of the envious and the enemies.”