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Scuds in Lebanon: Israel’s Déjà Vu, Again and Again

Israel must ignore the international minimizing of the threat. Iraqi Scuds and Egyptian anti-aircraft missiles were once minimized, too.

by
Lenny Ben-David

Bio

April 30, 2010 - 12:00 am

Lebanon’s army commander, Jean Kahwaji, argued this week that it was impossible that Scuds could have been introduced into the country:

Scud rockets are not like Katyushas that are carried on the shoulder and transferred from one area to another. The rockets are 30 meters long, are carried on large vehicles, and need 40 minutes to prepare for launch.

Considering that Hizbullah has been incorporated into the Lebanese army (some claim the army was integrated into Hizbullah), no one should be surprised by his declaration of innocence. But the Scud missile is 11-12 meters long, not 30 as Kahwaji states. Moreover, Hizbullah smuggled 16-meter-long Zelzal missiles and their launchers into Lebanon in 2006.

In the first days of the 2006 war in Lebanon, the Israeli air force succeeded in destroying 54 of Hizbullah’s mid-range Zelzal missile launchers (approximately half the range and half the warhead of the Scuds). Many of the Zelzals were deployed in civilian neighborhoods.

But the Israeli army and air force could not stop the constant bombardment of other missiles and rockets. Almost 3,800 rockets were launched against Israel, with some 900 hitting Israeli towns, killing 42 civilians and wounding more than 4,200. Today, Hizbullah is reported to possess 40,000 rockets, four times the number it held in 2006. “We are at a point now,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned this week, “where Hizbullah has far more rockets and missiles than most governments in the world.”

Presumably, Hizbullah will hide the Scud launchers better than it concealed the Zelzal launchers.

A recommendation to Israel: Be prepared. Consider preemption. Take the threat seriously.

Déjà vu, once more

Prior to the 1991 war, the Americans promised Israel that in the event of a Scud attack, U.S. aircraft would concentrate on knocking out the Scuds within the first 48 hours. However, as explained by Moshe Arens, who served as Israel’s defense minister at the time:

The problem of hitting mobile launchers was far more difficult than the U.S. had envisioned. Although there was intensive aerial activity directed at hitting the Scud launchers, not a single Scud launcher was hit or immobilized during the five weeks of the Gulf War.

Then the Americans sent over the Patriots. The Patriot was probably the most advanced anti-aircraft missile around at the time, and was advertised as also having anti-missile capability. As it turned out, the Patriot missiles in Israel did not succeed in intercepting a single Scud missile.

Today, senior American officials are not promising to destroy Hizbullah Scuds; they are denying that they’re in Lebanon.

After all, such a deployment would be a serious violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which prohibits the “supply of weapons to any entity in Lebanon without the consent of the Government of Lebanon.” (This raises the question of whether Lebanon’s government, cowering before a resurgent Syria, agreed to the Scud deployment. If so, that makes Lebanon, its military, and infrastructure complicit and fair game in the event of another war.)

But as far as Syria is concerned, the U.S. appears to be rewarding the Assad regime despite the transfer of the Scuds. Washington still intends to send a U.S. ambassador to Damascus as part of the commitment to “engage” Syria.

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