TEL AVIV (Aug. 16)
Israel’s defense establishment is concerned by the long-term implications of Syria’s purchase of Scud C surface-to-surface missiles from North Korea.
In the first disclosure of Syria’s latest acquisition, Prime Minister Rabin, who also holds the defense portfolio, revealed in Washington last week that Damascus had carried out two test firings of two newly obtained Scuds within the past two weeks.
The updated Scud is more dangerous than the older, Russian-supplied missiles, with a considerably longer range of some 370 miles, which covers all populated areas of Israel.
The North Korean version also has a heavier payload with greater accuracy.
Within two years or so, Syrian President Hafez Assad could presumably outfit his warheads with chemical or other unconventional materials.
Experts say the threat is not immediate, but that the new Scud has serious implications for Israel’s long-term defense.
Of more immediate concern, say researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, is the speed with which Syria has re-equipped itself since the end of the Persian Gulf War.
Its updated and sophisticated conventional weapons include T-72 heavy tanks from Russia and other Eastern European suppliers, heavy artillery from Bulgaria and elsewhere, M-29 jet fighters and Sukhoi-24 bombers, as well as a Russian version of the American Patriot anti-missile missile.
MAY COMPLICATE PEACE TALKS
They suggest that Assad’s massive arms buildup may lend weight to those who claim that possession of the Golan Heights is essential to ensure Israel’s security.
Israel’s continued presence within artillery range of Damascus and the fact that the flying time from the Syrian capital remains only a minute or so represent a potent deterrent threat to Syria.
Writing Aug. 13 in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, respected military analyst Ze’ev Schiff observed that Syria’s prominent test of the new Scud is likely to make political negotiations more difficult.
It may also strengthen the hands of those in Israel and the United States who charge that the fundamental approach of Damascus to the peace process is negative, he observed.
“Although there is no surprise inherent in the fact that the Syrians possess Scud-C missiles, the timing of the test should be regarded with severity,” he wrote.
He said the “stationing of the missiles in Syria, together with the fact that they have been tested, emphasizes the military cooperation between Damascus and Teheran.”
Syria and Iran are currently building a factory to produce the upgraded Scud missiles. Syria reportedly has already acquired the necessary machinery.