Across the Bay

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Transferring the Yakhont to Hezbollah

After meeting with Sec. Clinton on Monday, Syria's Walid Moallem came out with a brazen interview in the WSJ that trashed every single US item of concern. Most remarkable was his denial that Syria was passing weapons on to Hezbollah. Well, the newspaper owned by his boss's cousin says different. In fact, the Syrians have all but admitted their intention to pass along the Russian Yakhont anti-ship missile to the Shiite militia. I discuss that in my column today:

The first report came out in the Kuwaiti al-Rai in April, around the time when the story of Syria’s smuggling of Scuds to Hezbollah was still raging, along with assessments of growing military integration between Syria and Hezbollah in preparation for the next war with Israel.

The authors of the al-Rai report, known for their access to Hezbollah sources, quoted Syrian sources in laying out the shape of the military response to any Israeli attack against Syria. One element in this so-called “Syrian scenario” described in the report is of relevance here. It claimed that “Syria has prepared plans to hit the entire Israeli coast in case of a war against Lebanon and Syria, and Syria will use ground-to-sea missiles as well as imposing a blockade against Israeli naval targets, military and non-military, in order to shut down all Israeli ports.”

The report concluded with the Syrian sources warning Israel about the potency of the “unified military efforts” of the Syrian leadership and Hezbollah.

The theme of naval targets surfaced again about a month later in Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s “Liberation Day” speech. Nasrallah essentially echoed verbatim the Syrian claim reported in al-Rai, contending that his group possessed the capability to hit “all military, civilian and commercial ships” heading to “any port on the Palestinian coast from north to the south,” even threatening to target the port of Eilat on the Red Sea.

Then came the clincher. Immediately after Nasrallah’s speech, it was none other than the Syrian daily al-Watan, owned by Bashar al-Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, which offered the exclusive and detailed interpretation of what Nasrallah was referring to in his speech.

The paper’s report, headlined “Hezbollah possesses ground-to-sea missiles with a 300 km range,” described that the new missile was not the C-802, which Hezbollah had used to hit the Israeli Sa’ar warship, the Hanit, during the 2006 war. Rather, the new missile, according to “impeccable information” obtained by al-Watan, had a range of 300 kilometers, and covers the entire Israeli coastline.

Of course, it is precisely the Yakhont missile that has that range, as well as the capacity to carry a 200 kg warhead. In other words, the Syrians, by putting out an exclusive report, in their own media (and not through a leak to a Gulf newspaper, as is often the case), ahead of everyone else, were sending an unambiguous message regarding their intentions.