Text size

United States officials have confirmed Israeli allegations that Syria supplied Hezbollah with ballistic missiles capable of inflicting heavy damage on Israel's cities, according to reports in the United States Wednesday.

U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence told the Wall Street Journal that they believe Syria transferred Scud missiles built with either North Korean or Russian technology to the Lebanese militant group.

The American confirmation comes after Israel on Tuesday publicly accused Syria over the missiles.

"Syria claims that it wants peace, while simultaneously delivering Scud missiles to Hezbollah, which is constantly threatening the security of the state of Israel," President Shimon Peres told Israel Radio.

Later the same day, he said: "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 Hezbollah so that it can threaten Israel."

The allegations are already having repercussions on Washington's efforts to restore full diplomatic ties with Damascus. According to the Journal report, senior Republican politicians will press the U.S. Congress to block plans to reappoint an ambassador to Syria.

President Barack Obama in January decided to return a U.S. ambassador to Syria after a four-year absence, appointing Arabic-speaking diplomat Robert Ford to the task of wooing Damascus away from its closest ally, Iran.

But allegations over the Scuds have led to calls for Obama to rethink his policy of conciliation.

"It's increasingly hard to argue that the engagement track has worked," the Journal quoted Andrew Tabler, a Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as saying.

The House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved Ford's nomination, but three Republican senators registered their objection.

The Washington Post quoted congressional aides as saying that a full floor vote may be delayed until the administration can provide answers to the Israeli allegations.

Government officials responded to speculation by saying that provocations such as the Scud transfer made a U.S. diplomatic presence in Syri all the more necessary.

"If anything, we need (an ambassador) in Damascus full time just to ensure that reality gets its day in court now and then," the Wall Street Journal quoted a senior administration official as saying.