Syria gave advanced M-600 missiles to Hezbollah, defense officials claim

Haaretz: Army intelligence worried by Lebanese militants’ growing rocket arsenal – but says Syria has a genuine desire to strike a peace deal with Israel.

Syria has delivered advanced M600 rockets to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon within the past year, Israeli defense officials said on Wednesday.

The M600, a Syrian copy of the Iranian Fateh-110, has a range of 300km and carries a half-ton warhead. If fired from southern Lebanon it would be capable of hitting Tel Aviv.

Latest claims of arms transfers to Lebanon follow recent accusations by President Shimon Peres that Syria Hezbollah gave long-range Scud missiles, capable of inflicting heavy damage on Israel’s cities.

Other government figures, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have since avoided repeating the claims and it is unclear whether Damascus could have delivered the 44-foot liquid-fueled missiles, handling which requires complex logistics, undetected.

Yet doubts over the Scuds have not masked growing fear in the Israeli defense establishment over Hezbollah’s rapidly expanding arsenal. On Tuesday the army’s head of intelligence research, Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz, told the Knesset that the Scud transfer was the “tip of the iceberg”.

Baidatz warned that arms transfers were not sporadic but reflected long-term policy in Tehran and Damascus.

“Syria and Iran carry out weapons transfers on a constant and structured basis in way that can’t be described as simple smuggling – the transfers are official and well-organized,” he said.

He added: “Hezbollah’s long-range rockets allow them to position launchers deep within Lebanese territory and cover ranges far greater than we aware of in the past.

“Hezbollah in 2010 is very different to Hezbollah in 2006 in terms of military capability, which has advanced a great deal,” he said. “Hezbollah is now regarded by the Syrians as a component of their defense establishment.”

But despite strong backing for Hezbollah, Syria remained keen to strike a peace deal with Israel, Baidatz said.

“A political settlement with Israel is high on Syria’s list of priorities and intelligence shows a will to reach an agreement – but on their terms, meaning a return of the Golan Heights and American involvement” he said.

Baidatz said that Syria’s President Assad was willing to embrace sweeping changes – but did not trust the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Military intelligence believes Syria could radically alter its role – but Assad feels that political progress with the current Israel government is impossible and has therefore avoided confidence-building measures.”