For ten days, the US and Israel improbably joined forces with Syria, Lebanon and South Korea for a mighty effort to conceal the mammoth figure of 800 Scud missiles held ready for Hizballah in custom-built Syrian bases a 15-20-minute drive from the Lebanese border.
This effort was exhaustive enough to magic away the only media reference; an item in the Japanese Sankei Shimbun of Sunday, May 23; vanished overnight from the paper's Web site and the Internet.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly managed to pin it down. Here is the quote:
North Korea has agreed to Syria's shipment of long-range Scud missiles to the militant Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Syria is reportedly obliged to receive approval from North Korea the technology provider when handing over missiles to a third party. Citing unidentified sources, Japan says the North Korean embassy in Syria said it has "no intention to object to Syria's transfer of Scud missiles to Hezbollah." We speculate that the model Syria plans to provide the Lebanese militant group with is the Scud D with a range of 700 kilometers."
The Japanese item included the disclosure that the Syrian president needed North Korean approval for transferring the Scud Ds to Hizballah. Given the structure of the ruling regime in Pyongyang, the handover would have necessitated a nod from Kim Jong-il in person.
Red faces in Washington
All the parties concerned one way or another found the Japanese disclosure embarrassing enough to kill it.
The United States, for one, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington and military report, was not prepared to own up to the failure of its every effort (going back to the Clinton and Bush administrations) to curb the massive proliferation of nuclear and missile weapons technology originating in North Korea – most damagingly to the Middle East. Worse still, for the first time, the North Korean ruler actually authorized their transfer to a militia officially listed by the UN and the US as a terrorist organization.
As long as this level of nuclear and other dangerous weapon proliferation goes on unchecked, questions must be asked about the point of the "bold and pragmatic" program President Barack Obama submitted to the Washington summit of 47 world leaders on April 13, asking for their commitment to eliminate or lock down their nuclear materials within four years.
With US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Beijing this week (May 23-25) for discussions centering Iran's nuclear program and a bid for Chinese support for UN sanctions, Washington could not afford to let it be known that the world's top nuclear violator Kim Jong-Il had more leverage over war and peace in the Middle East than any other Asian, or even European, leader.
There might also have been quite a few red faces if the presence of 800 Scud D missiles under Hizballah's hand had been discovered during Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri's first White House visit Monday, May 24. It would have signaled the collapse of the Obama administration's policy of wooing Assad and exposed a US intelligence fiasco, to boot.
How would Netanyahu and Barak explain how it happened?
In any case, no sooner was Hariri home to Beirut when he lined up behind Syria and Hizballah in boosting his southern units against "a war emergency," despite his promise to the US president to try and abate rising war tensions.
Israeli leaders would also have been seriously discomfited by this discovery (see the separate item on the debate over Israel's restraint in the missile threat), because the public would demand answers to at least three questions:
1. How did North Korea, a country far from Israeli consciousness, manage to grab a leading role in the schemes for its destruction for the second time in three years? The first time was in 2007, when Pyongyang helped construct the Syrian plutonium reactor at A-Zur which Israel destroyed before it was up.
2. How could Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak let 800 Scud missiles pile up on the Syrian-Lebanese border for no purpose other than to destroy Israel's cities without stepping in to destroy them? That many Scuds imperils Israel's very existence no less than the plutonium Syria would have produced had the Israeli Air Force not bombed its reactor in 2007.
3. Hizballah's leader Hassan Nasrallah makes no secret of his plan to devastate Israel's population centers with hundreds of missiles and rockets while at the same time fighting to capture sections of northern Israel. (See Issue no. 430 of DNW from January 22 – Iran-Hizballah Mark out Patches of Northern Israel for Capture). So is the Netanyahu government sitting on its hands and letting it happen?
Lebanon's leaders President Michel Suleiman and the prime minister had an obvious interest in keeping the 800 Scuds hidden from sight. Their discovery would have shown them up as the stooges of Syrian president Bashar Assad and Iran's surrogate Hizballah who are free to manipulate Lebanon according to their interests.
Assad capitalizes on the secrecy for buck-passing on the impending war
As for Bashar Assad, who built up the Scud stockpile, he is exploiting the missile controversy to pass the buck for the flare-up of hostilities he is engineering to the United States and Israel.
In an interview with the Rome newspaper La Repubblica on Monday, May 24, the Syrian ruler said the United States had lost its influence in the Middle East by failing to contribute to regional peace. In his view, US President Barack Obama had "raised hopes" in the region but failed to follow through with substantive peace moves.
Assad also boasted about a new world order which, he said, had cut the United States down in the world by refusing to wait for roles to be handed out by Washington. He was referring to the bloc formed by Turkey, Brazil, Syria and Iran and sponsored on the outside by Russia and aiming a side swipe at Obama's White House welcome for Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, by showing that Damascus calls the shots in Lebanon – not Washington.
By keeping the 800 Scud D stock poised for handover to Hizballah dark, the United States and Israel played into Assad's hands and let him get away with engineering the elements of an impending Middle East war while pinning them blame on them.