It is good to see the president, through his top diplomats, condemn Syrian arms transfers to Hizballah in Lebanon. It is also good to hear him demand that such transfers are stopped - or, as the AP reports, "curbed". It's another thing altogether to consider how Syria sees and hears these things from the American president. And unfortunately, there is every indication that Syria and Iran see a toothless and disinterested tiger giving a weak, obligatory roar.
From the Associated Press report:
A top U.S. diplomat has urged Syria to do more to prevent arms shipments to the militant Lebanese Hezbollah and stem the flow of militants into Iraq.
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman said while relations remain uneasy, Syria was important to achieving a full Arab-Israeli settlement.
The fact remains that, since the Israeli withdrawal after the 2006 Summer War against Hizballah in Southern Lebanon, the Iranian-proxy terrorist group has not only restored its offensive missile, explosives and small arms arsenals to per war levels, they have significantly surpassed and built upon them. Iran brags of this. Hizballah brags of this. And Syria, the transit point between the two, generally keeps carefully mum while it facilitates arms tranfers and initiates arms transfers of their own.
Consider the recent Israeli charge that Iran was supplying Hizballah with Scud missiles - the terrorizing weapon of Saddam Hussein's Gulf War infamy that struck Israel all the way from points within Iraq. Israel was tracking the shipments via satellite and managed to halt them through threats of attack to Syria, it is believed.
Syria today, with the arming of Hizballah in the current news cycle due to the White House visit today of Lebnanese minister Saad Hariri, is now denying that it even makes sense to give Hizballah the weapons. The longer-range Scuds, according proffered Syrian logic, are "not even within Hizballah's tactics."
Oh really? Is that what Syria would say of the much more sophisticated Iranian version of China's Silkworm anti-ship cruise missile? Perhaps it would - had Hizballah not already fired at least two of them in the 2006 war.
Hizballah's tactics are to overwhelm the Israeli civilian population with missile and rocket bombardments, and to strike as deeply within Israel as possible. The Scud fits the bill. And is relatively plentiful, can be concealed, and can be fielded.
The problem for Hizballah (and its Syrian and Iranian masters) is that it takes a good bit of time (relatively) between fielding and erecting the large missile and the time it can be fired. And in those minutes, with nearly the whole of southern Lebanon under satellite (and other) surveillance, the Israeli air force would likely destroy the many of them in place during prep.
But all of this is academic. The issue is not Hizballah tactics, or Syrian or Iranian policy of arming them, or even of intent. The issue is that the West clings to words while the enemy arms. And when the firing begins, Israel is roundly and relentlessly condemned in the media-shaped court of public opinion.
We know that Iran and Hizballah seek to destroy Israel. We also know that Syria will 'reconsider' its alliance with Iran only when it fears America and the West more than it fears Iran. And therefor, Bashar Assad's Syria will continue to arm Hizballah in preparation for great conflict.
There's really only so much we can do, even if we try to strong-arm Syria. The point of this little blurb is not to proffer suggestions and tracks. It is, however, to cause the reader to touch base with reality: Words with Syria are cheap. Unless we are prepared to instill a greater fear than that which is posed by a retaliatory Iran (sticks) as well as prepared to offer positive incentives (carrots), Hizballah prepares, through its masters, for great conflict. And Syria will remain central as both conduit dictated by geography and supplier dictated by alliances.
Condemnations, Demands And Denials. None of it now will matter much then. Just something to keep in mind when the first volley of rockets and missles flies over the border for Israeli hospitals, apartments and shopping centers.