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Syria's alleged delivery of Scud missiles to Hezbollah, first reported by a Kuwaiti newspaper some two weeks ago, continues to evoke contradictory responses.

After President Shimon Peres publicly accused Syria of delivering the missiles came denials from Syria and Lebanon, and several confused statements from the American administration.

The leaders of Egypt and Syria are expected to meet sometime in the next weeks in Sharm el-Sheikh, according to the Al-Hayyat newspaper. Commentators in the Arab media say the Scud missiles will be one of the gathering's central issues, due to Egypt's fear that the arms delivery harbingers an impending conflagration between Israel and Hezbollah.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Wednesday that Israel was deliberately spreading lies about the missile delivery, with the intent of using them to predicate a war against Lebanon. Hariri compared the Scud missile report to claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which had not been found after the American invasion in 2003.

This is Hariri's official position. Privately, Hariri understands the Scud missiles could foreshadow Lebanon getting entangled in another flare-up.

If the meeting between between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak does take place, Assad will hear Egyptian fears about the danger Damascus is bringing upon the region by bringing Scud missiles into Lebanon. When the Second Lebanon War erupted, Saudi Arabia and Egypt launched an attack on Hezbollah for dragging the region into a risky, uncalculated escapade.

Perhaps this is the purpose of the Syrian and Egyptian talks after four years of no meetings between the two leaders - avoiding an unnecessary risky undertaking.

Meanwhile, Washington has not presented a clear position. Since the beginning of the week Pentagon and State Department spokesmen have issued various comments from which it was not clear whether the United States is certain of the arms delivery or merely suspects it had taken place.

United States Senator Dianne Feinstein from California, a Democrat who serves as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has a clearer view of the issue. Feinstein told AFP on Tuesday "I believe there is a likelihood there are Scuds that Hezbollah has in Lebanon," she said. "This is a real point of danger for Israel.

Then she added, "There's only one thing that's going to solve it, and that's a two-state solution."

Should these two issues necessarily be connected? Apparently only Obama's administration knows for sure.

The Israel Defense Forces General Staff is following the commotion caused by the Kuwaiti report with some satisfaction. This is the first time since the exposure of the Syrian nuclear device in 2007 that Syrian President Bashar Assad has been caught in such a patently problematic activity, a senior officer told Haaretz.

The Syrians appear upset about the exposure, among other things because the U.S. in response delayed the return of its ambassador to Damascus.

"They knew about the missiles and the Western intelligence services knew. Now the world knows too. It proves that while Assad presents himself to Europe as a peace seeker, he is adhering to his strategic alliance with Iran and Hezbollah," the officer said.

Israel sees the missiles as symbolically significant rather than practically important. Some of Hezbollah's rockets are more accurate and their warheads could be almost as deadly.

Iran announced on Tuesday it was launching a three-day drill in the Hormuz Straits area, involving Revolutionary Guards' naval, air and ground forces. The drill's purpose is to "preserve security in the Persian Gulf and straits," Iran said.

Iran has been flexing its military muscles a lot in the past weeks, probably among other things due to conjectures that the United States would advance a UN resolution to impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic in June.

Earlier this week Iran displayed in a military parade in Tehran what it described as a local version of the Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile system. As far as Israel is concerned, the delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran, which Russia has held up so far, would be worrying as it would somewhat restrict the ability to attack Iran's nuclear sites from the air.

Israeli weapons experts who looked at the pictures coming out of Tehran thought at first the Iranians were exhibiting fake missiles to deceive and deter the world. But after further examination researchers Tal Inbar of the Fisher Brothers Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, and Uzi Rubin discerned a vehicle carrying a radar.

The radar is very similar to the Chinese and Russian made S-10, another edition of the S-300. If this is indeed what it is, the Iranians have either received the radar indirectly from the Russians or their weapons development is more advanced than Israel has believed it to be.

Posted by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff on April 22, 2010

Previous MESS Report posts:

  • Israel has ample reason to worry in its 63rd year
  • Israelis right to heed Sinai kidnap warning
  • Syria is shipping Scud missiles to Hezbollah
  • Snubbed IDF chief won't fight to stick around
  • The race is on for next IDF chief
  • Four Gaza factions halt rocket fire, in bow to Hamas
  • Is Gaza now Netanyahu's biggest problem?