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Lebanon in 'panic' over fear of Israeli attack

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Egypt: Lebanon in 'panic' over fear of Israeli attack

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

"Complete panic" is reigning in Lebanon because of fears of an Israeli attack and another war, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a closed meeting earlier this week, sources say.

The panic was spurred by the recent reports that Syria has delivered Scud missiles to Hezbollah. But senior diplomats have told Haaretz that Western intelligence agencies, including those of the United States, have been unable to independently confirm that such missiles have been sent to the Shi'ite group.

In recent months, Israel has used diplomatic channels via the United States and European Union to relay warnings that Syria was transferring advanced weapons systems to Hezbollah.

Military censorship has prevented the publication of many details, but reporters and analysts in the foreign media have mentioned various types of arms that Israel says Syria has made available to Hezbollah. These include anti-aircraft missiles, Scuds, and in some reports, chemical weapons.

According to the Western media, Israel's claims that Syria has transferred Scud missiles to Hezbollah have made the issue a public one. Israel has lowered some of the censorship restrictions on local media, but also heightened tensions between Israel, Syria and Lebanon.

However, a number of Western intelligence agencies, including those of the United States, have expressed great doubts about the reliability of Israeli intelligence, or at least the analysis of the available data.

In some reports in the international media, sources in the U.S. administration admit that it is still unclear whether Syria has sent Scuds to Hezbollah.

Senior Western diplomats noted that investigations by a number of Western intelligence agencies have not made clear whether missiles of that type have been delivered. The diplomats noted that the United States was the only side that presented independent intelligence on the matter. But it only showed that Hezbollah guerrillas were training to operate Scuds in Syria. There were no clear indications that missiles had reached Lebanon.

The reports and the public discussion have fed the panic in Lebanon. Haaretz has learned that Aboul Gheit explained in his closed meeting that because of the tensions in Beirut, he sent letters to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and some of his counterparts in leading EU countries.

In the letters, Aboul Gheit asked Western countries to intervene with Israel to prevent a conflagration on its northern border.

Aboul Gheit added that in Lebanon, and in many additional Arab countries, the view is that no Scud missiles have been delivered from Syria to Lebanon. "It makes no sense," he said. "These are large missiles that are difficult to hide."

The Egyptian foreign minister said that the reports on the transfer of the missiles are creating the impression that Israel is looking for an excuse for another war in Lebanon.

Senior officials in European countries recently received emotional messages from Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who asked that they intervene to contain Israel so it will not attack Lebanon.

Earlier this month, for example, Hariri met with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; sources familiar with the meeting say Berlusconi was amazed at the great tension the Lebanese leader expressed about the possibility of an Israeli attack.

The Italian prime minister sought to calm his Lebanese counterpart and told him that he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and would do so again. He did not think that Israel planned to attack.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak next week at Sharm el-Sheikh. Mubarak, too, spoke with Hariri about his concerns that Israel might attack, and is expected to raise the issue with Netanyahu.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak met yesterday with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. He stressed that "the UN has a great role to play in blocking the transfer of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah."

In recent days, Barak also discussed the issue of arms transfers from Syria to Hezbollah during meetings with senior Obama administration officials. During Barak's meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates yesterday, the American official said Syria and Iran provide Hezbollah with missiles. Gates said Hezbollah has more missiles and rockets than most states.

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However, a number of Western intelligence agencies, including those of the United States, have expressed great doubts about the reliability of Israeli intelligence, or at least the analysis of the available data.

In some reports in the international media, sources in the U.S. administration admit that it is still unclear whether Syria has sent Scuds to Hezbollah.

Senior Western diplomats noted that investigations by a number of Western intelligence agencies have not made clear whether missiles of that type have been delivered. The diplomats noted that the United States was the only side that presented independent intelligence on the matter. But it only showed that Hezbollah guerrillas were training to operate Scuds in Syria. There were no clear indications that missiles had reached Lebanon.

Aboul Gheit added that in Lebanon, and in many additional Arab countries, the view is that no Scud missiles have been delivered from Syria to Lebanon. "It makes no sense," he said. "These are large missiles that are difficult to hide."

I'm not buying it. Why now? Western intelligence hasn't heard about some large SCUDs rolling around and Lebanon ain't that big and it's loaded with spies. I'm sure if Israeli drones fly over Lebanon all the time but it wouldn't be that difficult.


David & Lalai

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