""If these reports turn out to be true, we are going to have to review the full range of tools that are available to us in order to make Syria reverse what would be an incendiary, provocative action," Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, moments after making a strong pitch for the first U.S. ambassador in Damascus since 2005. Administration officials have suggested that the Scuds may not have reached Hezbollah in Lebanon; in that case the strong statements may be preventative. What is known for sure is that Syria has facilitated the transfer of thousands of rockets and missiles to Hezbollah since 2006 in blatant violation of the U.N. resolution that ended that summer's war in Lebanon. So why persist with the "engagement" policy? "President Assad is . . . making decisions that could send the region into war," was Mr. Feltman's answer. "He's listening to Ahmadinejad. He's listening to Hassan Nasrallah. He needs to listen to us, too.""
"If these reports turn out to be true…"
Well, are they or aren't they? Israel asserts that Syria has transferred some of these old, liquid fueled ballistic missiles to Hizbullah to drag around in the hills, fiddling with the dangerous fuel and oxidizers. What would be the point? Hizbullah is already in possession of a large and effective collection of short and long range rocketry.
Israel is an interested party in this matter. Are we to take their word for it? What does US intelligence say of this?
This Hiatt editorial quoted Jeffrey Feltman a lot. Feltman's bias is clear. Why is he still at the State Department as Assistant Secretary for the Near East? Don't we need a new ambassador in Iceland? pl
The Scud story sounded fishy to me right from the start.
Is Feltman a Bush leftover who has burrowed himself, or is a he a career guy?
Leave Iceland alone. They have had their fair share of hardships recently.
And as for the question as to why Hezbollah would need or want Scud missiles, or why Syria would give them to them … isn’t this … line of … argument … Saddam! Saddam had Scuds! Saddam’s Scud missiles hit Israel! Existential threat! Ahmedinejad! Assad! Nasrallah! Al Qaeda? Anyway! Munich 1938! Appeasement! … compelling … proof?
All these items are inextricably linked (by me).
1. So Israel via apparent (transparent) calculated disinformation is attempting to interfere with improvement in US-Syrian relations at a critical juncture and a top US diplomat is promoting the Israeli line….
But isn’t this consistent with Feltman’s tenure as Ambassador in Lebanon etc.?
“He served in Embassy Tel Aviv as Ambassador Martin Indyk’s Special Assistant on Peace Process issues (2000-2001).”
Why was he promoted to his present position in the first place?
2. Is Israel planning yet another attack on Lebanon, to include Syria this time?
3. Is he the one engineering what is reported as a “secret understanding” between the US and Israel about Jerusalem and settlements? The US position has consistently in the past been that such settlements are illegal under international law per se. Has the Obama Administration abandoned this historic US position?
Feltman is a career diplomat but most definitely a hard liner, most evident during his time as ambassador to Lebanon under Bush. State Department friends tell me that his career was promoted by the usual neocon players and it is my understanding that he was retained in his post by Obama as a favor to AIPAC and its friends in congress.
I have been told that the scuds story is BS, being floated by Israel for the usual reasons. Scuds are big and hard to hide and move and there is no evidence that any made the journey from Syria to south Lebanon.
Is there an undercurrent here. The Syrians desperately want to qualify as an associate member of the EC. They are slowly but sucessfully reforming their economy to be acceptable. The Landis Blog is very informative.
The Israelis also want this status but they have been told by Brussels that they are a non-starter until the Israel/Palestine mess is settled.
Is making Syria look bad part of the equation??
Feltman and Hiatt, blatant Neocon tribal advocacy for Israel. WaPo has become the print equivalent of Fox News.
Kathryn Graham would be horrified.
FWIW: Feltman was Martin Indyk’s Special Assistant on Peace Process issues back in 2000 and he is tapped to become the US envoy to Syria but I guess that this does not bode too well with the Syrians after what he said in 2006 whilst in Lebanon.
He is also an admirer of Lee Smith from the Hudson Institute and often quotes his opinions,such as this one:
Anti-Americanism is an Arab constant, the region’s lingua franca, from Nasser to Nasrallah it has not changed in over 50 years.
I guess when a former IDF member said that Israel should topple Syria, everyone from the secretive society of agents on this side of the Atlantic must follow suit:
This is slightly off topic, but
does seem to represent, if true, a parallel development, with, once again, the U.S. in the position of ingenuous dupe:
Indeed there is a certain elegance in implementing Netanyahu’s “out clause” via what must be a controlled leak to Maariv.
Obviously, independent confirmation or refutation of the Maariv story would be of interest.
As you say, the story always sounded fishy — the scare tactics are all too familiar, and the Scuds hardly seem the kind of missiles which the Israelis have real reason to fear.
You may remember a discussion on the blog a bit over three years ago, prompted by Colonel Lang’s post ‘The Tabouleh Line Revisited’. In it, I harked back to some comments at the time of the Lebanon War by the former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia, Ray Close, who had argued that the availability of missiles of steadily increasing range and accuracy to Hizballah from Iran posed an ever-increasing threat, leading pressures to try to get to the United States to do something decisive about Iran.
What followed were some fascinating exchanges among people who — unlike me — understood the relevant technicalities — to which you made most interesting contributions.
On a thread in January this year, there was a good deal of discussion of the possibility that the availability of MANPADs could be a ‘game changer’ in favour of Hizballah, should there be a new war.
Is there any hard information available about how far the range at which Hizballah can expect to hit targets within Israel, and the accuracy with which it can hope to do so, has improved?
More generally, is there any hard information about how far the problems in devising accurate low-cost guidance systems which were identified in those exchanges are being resolved?
Speaking of missiles,
check these Club-K’s out.
Mr. Feltman needs to be removed from all further State Department posts except for the mail room, along with his clearances revoked. And Mr. Feltman needs to register himself as an agent for a foreign government under FARA, as he has obviously based on his actions been doing work on behalf of a foreign government.
Interesting French Blog here on this subject:
Do you know Col. Mo Ralston? I just attended a class where he was part of the training cadre, and he kept making this same point over and over again. Is this something that is being pushed by the high levels of government all over now?
My gut feel is that if Israel had hard evidence of the movement of Scuds on their transporters or their whereabouts they would have bombed them in a heartbeat, no waiting, no agonising, no ultimatums and no warning. They would then have released the videos to the world.
What say you?
Scuds just ain’t Hizballahs style.
And hell, if you have access to Zelzals, why would you want a Scud? Its like asking a surgeon to put away his scalpel and use this hammer.
The only people who need Scuds as a weapon are the friends of Israel in the US trying to scuttle Obama’s dealings with Syria.
David, I refer you to Nasrallahs last speech. It may not be “hard” evidence but the man simply does not boast that which he cannot deliver.
I think it is baloney. pl
Never heard of him. He believed the Israelis about the Syrian SCUDS? If so, he is quite gullible. pl
What alarms me regarding Mr. Feltman is his reported ‘close associations’ with Israeli Intelligence and some of their ‘nefarious ops’ operating inside Lebanon.
Right on cue:
WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday accused Iran and Syria of arming Hezbollah with increasingly sophisticated rockets and missiles, saying the militia’s arsenal undermined stability in the region.
“Syria and Iran are providing Hezbollah with rockets and missiles of ever-increasing capability,” Gates said at a joint news conference with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak.
“And we’re at a point now, where Hezbollah has far more rockets and missiles than most governments in the world, and this is obviously destabilizing for the whole region and we’re watching it very carefully.”
How propagandized we have become. Destablizing for the whole region? The world even, maybe even the whole cosmos. Missiles with ever increasing capability? Soon they won’t even have to shoot them, just think them.
The feeling around here is that the Zionist state will attack Lebanon… again, not Syria.
He seemed to know you. He said he was in the DIA and a member of the West Point Colonels association – ring and all. You must be famous in that circle. ; )
It was a DoE class with a focus on weapons of mass destruction. Interesting stuff, if something that kept me up searching eBay for a chemical suit. They had a captured Iraqi scud there as well, so that’s when that came up.
As far as Hizballah goes, the Scuds are a game changer, but not to the degree that they could be.
Hizballah’s motto has always seemed to be “Keep your promises, because then your threats carry as much weight as anything else you say.”
Do you think the scuds are there just to lure the Israeli Army in there for another mauling? It doesn’t seem like Hizbollah’s infantry capability has gone down, nor has Israel’s tactics changed.
I taught there. That’s the extent of it. pl
WOW SCUDS are liquid fueled. I thought they were solid fuel rockets?
So far as I know all SCUD variants are liquid fueled and have to be filled at the launching site from towed trailers or some such vehicle. Visualize Hizbullah moving these things around in the south Lebanon hills while Israeli drones watch. we could not find any Iraqi mobile SCUD launchers during the first Gulf war because the Iraqis hid them under underpasses, in metal buildings, etc. pl
In the open the Scud Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) is a distinctive vehicle, and easily recognised.
It would be difficult for Hezbollah to maintain the missiles. SCUD fuel is chemically nasty stuff (Kerosene is one thing but IRFNA is highly toxic and corrosive and UDMH is highly toxic, carcinogenous and explosive) and probably a pain to handle i.e. they need special equipment, training and a specialised logistical trail. Solid fuel missiles like the ones they have are far easier to handle.
Why all the hassle for so little gain in capability?
The last thing I think Nasrallah to be is an empty windbag. But it seems to me implicit in the complexities of his position that one cannot simply take what he says, at this point, at face value.
If I understand right, he believes that time is on his side. And, having closely followed internal Israeli debates about the country’s vulnerabilities, he thinks that Israel can be pushed into collapse.
This seems to me a plausible analysis. Accurate missiles capable of targeting Israel from secure positions north of the Litani do not need to be used to have a devastating effect on Israel, any more than a possible Iranian bomb. The possibility, by itself, is liable to encourage the tendency for the educated and technologically sophisticated to think that there are better places to bring up their children.
Trying to get out of the problem, Netanyahu is busily backing himself into a corner. He needs to portray both the Iranians, and Hizballah, as irrational fanatics, in order to attempt to inveigle the United States into sorting out his Iranian problem for him. But in doing so he runs very grave risks of encouraging precisely the population flight he fears. So the route he has gone down is one from which it is not easy to turn back.
What this means is that the Netanyahu and Nasrallah may both agree that an an inability either to destroy the military power of Hizballah, or to prevent an eventual Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, spells the end of the Zionist project — and they could well both be right.
Accordingly, Nasrallah faces the familiar dilemmas of those who believe that ‘containment’ and ‘deterrence’ are liable to precipitate ‘regime change’: if there is any hope of successful ‘deterrence’, it depends upon making military threats ‘credible’, while the possibility that ‘deterrence’ will fail has to be taken with extreme seriousness.
So it becomes difficult to interpret Nasrallah’s statement that Hizballah ‘craves war but we do not want it.’ It could be intended to bolster ‘deterrence’ until such time as any possibility that the Israelis could judge that a ‘window of opportunity’ is still open has closed, while maintaining the morale of his fighters, in case this should be impossible.
But then, it could indicate a genuine insouciance about the prospect of war. The two hypotheses do not, at a crude level, generate separate predictions.
What I really did find both puzzling — and frightening — was the suggestion in an article by Nicholas Noe in Asia Times Online back in March that:
‘the truly pressing issue for concerned policymakers and citizens alike is that both opposing axes, but especially the “resistance axis” of Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas, now seem to believe that the next war can and should be the last one between Israel and its enemies.’
The logic here escapes me. I can see how, should Israel should either make a new abortive attempt to destroy Hizballah militarily, or make an abortive attempt to set back the Iranian nuclear programme, this might produce a general sense that the writing was indeed on the wall for the country, encouraging the kind of demographic collapse on which Nasrallah and others are counting.
But this would leave an Israeli population even more dominated by rabid ethnic nationalists and the ultra-orthodox — precisely the people who are likely neither to want to leave nor to be able to, but are hardly going to be susceptible of assimilation into a single binational state. A very well-founded sense that their state had no long-term prospects would mesh with the Masada complex already very visible among Israelis.
And the state would still possess a large nuclear arsenal.
So I really do hope either that Noe is misreporting, or that if Nasrallah suggests that he believes that a repeat of Hizballah’s success in 2006 would spell a relatively painless end to the Zionist project both for Israelis and others, on this matter at least, he is suggesting something he realizes he may very well be unable to deliver.
Interesting analysis, but isn’t the emigration of a part of the Israeli population already underway and due in large part to internal policies and not the fear of actual external threats?
In reference to Nasrallah’s statements, all that you say could be correct and an act of deterrence, but I doubt it simply because the likelihood of him being called on it is too great and the threats too specific (“if you bomb our airport we will bomb Ben Gurion Airport).
Further still, this is Israel we are talking about and trying to guess their reaction to a speech or action is futile; They are too busy trying to look clever.
So net effect, I think Hizballah has at least Zelzals but more likely Zelzal 2s.
More importantly, and this lends to the second part of your post, I think they have set up some anti-aircraft defenses that they think will be effective.
Noe wasn’t misreporting their belief. The belief isn’t based on a repeat of 2006. It is based on much more than that.
As I reported on this blog 4 years ago, in the 06 war there were a number of occasions where the Resistance fighters had to retreat from a battle not because they were losing but because the battle had crossed into Israel. And as was noted then, the guys pushing the much vaunted IDF infantry back across the border were the “village brigades”.
But the lessons of 1066 and Harolds defeat are still true today. Don’t join with the enemy where you haven’t planned to even when it looks like you are winning.
So to cut a long vision short, the Resistance don’t believe they can invade Israel; What they believe is that if they can take the battle deep enough into Israel that would be enough to cause a panic that sees enough Israelis flee and a large enough exodus could cause the military collapse as well (which imho is the same reason the US and Israel are working so hard to stop Iran having nuclear capability).
Further still, any advance they were to make into Israel itself would most likely see the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon swamp the land behind them which would make any US or UN intervention very difficult.
Its true, those that remained may very well use their nuclear warheads but these days I’m not entirely sure an Israeli leader would want to attach such a stigma to the Jewish people. And I’m not entirely sure they would be in a position to do so – The Liebermans of Israel, those that use the nationalist agenda would be long gone. Those that will refuse to leave, I believe , will be the ones in the settlements and in Jerusalem.
They know it wouldn’t be painless but I guess they are using a logic that the big hurt once is better than the continued hurt for centuries to come.
And that is why they want the fight but won’t start it.
About these missile reports; I had heard on the news where Secretary of Defense Gates was saying if this is true it would be bad. Since Gates is a “realist” who was installed in Junior’s cabinet by Baker and Senior to keep Cheney and others in
check; I should think Gates would eventually want to know whether Hizballah really has some kind of bigger better missiles or not. And he would want to actually know, not just know that Israel says so. Or would he have some other reason to move this along?
(91B’s item about the new Russian cruise missiles reminded me of this story I read about those same missiles. It makes me think
yet again that we should not forget to think about how Russia also wants to create an America-Iran war in order to have Iran use these missiles on big expensive American warships.
Back to the subject, if a vast majority of Israelis were/are prepared to passively endure the risks of living under a highly threatening missile-shadow; then the presence of that shadow won’t in itself cause
an Israeli population collapse. The Israelis can choose how they will respond to things, if they decide to think very slowly and clearly.
I too suspect the Israelis who are leaving are
leaving to escape an increasingly unliveable extremist and backwardist political and cultural regime. It reminds me of something they taught us in college about the failed German revolutions of 1848. The failed democratic-liberal revolution-makers found the reactionary social
order so culturally and politically unbearable that they fled for their souls, sanity, and freedom; not out of fear of physical annihilation from outside the Germanies. If more than
50 percent of the emigrating Israelis are of center-left orientation; then that would suggest they are fleeing from the growing shadow of Likudist and etc. fascism rather than the shadow of Hizballah’s missiles or Iran’s possible future atom bombs. Hopefully sociologists are interviewing Israeli emigrants to see what their political orientation/background is.
If that is indeed who is emigrating, then that would mean that the majority of Jewisraelis remaining would be more and more weighted towards the descendants of the Arab Jews who came to Israel. I have read that they feel themselves to have been pressured to leave the Arab countries. (I remember Mo and Babak Makhinejad discussing this back and forth several years ago). If they indeed feel that way, then they might be the bitterest opponents of a One State Solution or a One State Future. How effective their opposition would be without any Center-Leftisraelis remaining in the country to help maintain the country would be an interesting question.
If the Center-Leftisraelis remain unable to seize power back and respond by individual mass escape; then we will see this question answered.
(At this point, I wonder whether the center-left could return to genuine power through anything less than an overwhelming victory in a genuine Civil War against the “right”. I don’t know how else the center-left would get the power to march a half-million illegal settlers out of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights at gunpoint. And at this point, the only way to revive any hope of a Two State Solution future would be for the Israeli center-left to gain so much overwhelming power in Israel
that they actually could march all the illegals out of the territories FIRST, as
a “confidence-building measure”. Anything less would build no confidence and gain no trust on the Palestinian side.
Certainly emigration is well under way, and there are many other factors in play, besides the security situation. However, the evidence presented by Ian Lustick in his seminal 2008 Middle East Policy article ‘Abandoning the Iron Wall: Israel and the “Middle Eastern Muck”‘ suggests that apprehensions about the security situation are an increasingly important motivation in causing Israelis to think their future may lie elsewhere.
The depiction by Professor Lustick of how Israeli perceptions have changed seems to me both extremely cogent, and to have very far-reaching implications. His central point is that the ‘Iron Wall’ conception, which Jabotinsky set out in 1925, and which was the basis of Israeli policy until recently, has now effectively been abandoned.
In essence, this conception involved bludgeoning the Arabs into accepting that Israel could not be destroyed, as a prelude to negotiated accommodations.
What has now replaced this, Lustick argues, is an image of Israel as an isolated outpost of Western civilisation, in an Arab/Muslim world with which no accommodation is possible. A ‘natural feature of this overall outlook,’ he writes, is:
‘an image of the Arab/Muslim world, and the Palestinians in particular, as irrational, brutal and violent, imbued with intractably anti-Semitic hatreds fortified by deeply anti-Western, Muslim-fundamentalist fanaticism.’
But of course, if one thinks like that, a question naturally arises as to whether it makes more sense to pack up and move to areas of the Western world at a greater distance from such awful people. Why live on Hadrian’s Wall, when one could live in Rome — or Seville, or indeed Londonium, as it once was called?
And this image, of course, also has the effect of making the acquisition of more sophisticated military capabilities by Hizballah and Iran look yet more threatening than it would otherwise seem — and indeed actually is.
This both, as it were, makes Hadrian’s Wall a still more ludicrous place to stay, and encourages the disastrous propensity of Israelis to see Middle Eastern realities in terms of analogies with the Holocaust.
thanks for that most interesting analysis.
Again, I think Lustick’s article very relevant.
It seems to me an open question whether there was ever any long-term prospect for the survival of a Jewish settler state in the Middle East. However, if there was, it depended upon the ‘Iron Wall’ strategy succeeding.
What eliminated any chances of this happening was the combination of hubris and exaggerated fear which, after their dramatic victory in 1967, blinded the Israeli leadership to the fact that any viable settlement depended upon using the territorial gains it achieved as bargaining chips — rather than trying to hold on to them.
I am concerned that, in the wake of their dramatic successes against Israel, Hizballah may also be succumbing to a combination of hubris and exaggerated fear.
‘They know it wouldn’t be painless but I guess they are using a logic that the big hurt once is better than the continued hurt for centuries to come.’
But if Lustick is right, the fear is wildly exaggerated. The portrait he paints is of an Israel already in an advanced state of disintegration. If that is so, the political problem becomes how to manage the winding up of the Zionist project, without this generating a total and utter catastrophe. And as the catastrophe could indeed be total and utter, it seems to me that a lot of people who are at daggers’ drawn actually have a common interest in avoiding it.
What you are suggesting — if I understand right — is that in the event of a new war Hizballah would, as in 2006, be very chary about advancing into Israel. Not only however are they optimistic that they can fend off any Israeli assault — they believe that by a kind of ‘symetrical response’ they could trigger the kind of panic which would produce an immediate exodus, which in turn could lead to an immediate military collapse: rather than simply accelerating a more extended process of disintegration.
Should this happen, if I understand the thinking right, Hizballah might change tack and advance some way into Israel — with Palestinian refugees following behind.
Lacking relevant expertise, I cannot judge how realistic this is. What does puzzle me are some of your reasons for being reasonably sanguine about the possibilities of the Israelis using nuclear weapons if indeed they were confronted by the possible of rapid disintegration you outline.
If the developments you suggest Hizballah anticipates are supposed to happen quickly, then how are ‘those that use the nationalist agenda’ going to have had time to get out?
Moreover, another point made by Lustick is here relevant. He suggests that rather than force against Arabs and Muslims being conceived of as ‘a persuasive instrument in service of political or diplomatic aims’, it is now increasingly treated by Israelis as ‘a kind of rattonade’.
Apparently this is a term drawn from French practice in Algeria, whose literal meaning is ‘rat hunt’, and which signifies a violent strike on the enemy, ‘for purposes of punishment, destruction and psychological release.’
Certainly, when people threaten to use nuclear weapons, there is often a great deal of bluster — the reasons for being cautious about actual use are commonly strong. But I would want be chary about assuming that good sense would prevail if Israel was actually in the throes of catastrophic and rapid collapse.
And given that if it did not, the use of nuclear weapons could very well be ‘for purposes of punishment, destruction and psychological release’, if good sense did not prevail, the catastrophe could indeed be total and utter.