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You call that a missile? Now this, this is a missile.

April 15, 2010
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So the rumors are true, and it appears that Syria really is transferring the infamous Scud missile to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Despite a lot of talk about rapprochement with the Syrian government, many dictators tend to be more concerned with power politics than the rhetoric of cooperation. Given the regional balance of power, it is sensible that Syria supports Hezbollah, its one real regional client, as a way to keep a check on Israel and support some of its shared aims with ally Iran. Giving them Scud missiles, however, is a very serious move. Were these missiles to be used, they would almost certainly invite an Israeli counterstrike in Syria itself. Israel already proved it can penetrate Syrian air defenses and strike critical targets when it bombed the nascent Syrian nuclear program, hitting the missiles would be a matter of the right intelligence.

Israel has launched major wars over rockets with far less lethal potential than the Scuds, let alone the potential they would have if equipped with Syria’s extensive stock of chemical weapons and more limited biological weapons program. Though the idea of a Iranian-backed launch of chemical weapons into Israel in retaliation to an Israeli strike will keep military planners up at night, since Israel has second-strike nuclear capability, the escalation ladder there would culminate in the obliteration of Syria and Iran. That said, Israel has launched pre-emptive strikes and interventions in Lebanon for much less than this.

Could this actually accelerate or trigger an Israeli strike on Iran? There have been ruminations about a new conflict in Lebanon before, and Israel’s northern border would be the primary theater for the brunt of Iran’s retaliation against Israel. The logic goes that if Israel is going to be embroiled in a war against Lebanon and perhaps Syria anyway, then it is already facing the worst of the potential consequences of bombing Iran. In that case, it might as well launch attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities. This ignores a host of diplomatic obstacles (how to get to Iran’s airspace, for example, when Iraq, Turkey, and perhaps the Saudis seem unlikely to tolerate overflight) and other potential pitfalls, but it is easy to see Israeli leaders taking a “now or never” approach under such circumstances.

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