Hizbullah and the Policy of "Scud Ambiguity"
"We do not confirm or deny if we have received weapons or not, so we do not comment and we will not comment. This is our position."
- Hizbullah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, on charges that the group has acquired long-range Scud missiles from Syria, 1 May 2010
The story first broke in mid-April when the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai Al-Aam reported that Syria recently transferred Scud missiles to Hizbullah fighters in Lebanon, having trained them in their use the past summer. Days later, when "Israeli" President Shimon Peres publicly accused Syria of supplying Hizbullah with the notoriously inaccurate rockets, media attention became widespread.
The pretense for a "pre-emptive" "Israeli" strike on Lebanon had been nicely set.
The Syrian government, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (who has no particular affection for Syria or Hizbullah) and his country's president, Michel Suleiman, all denied the allegations. Even Egypt's foreign minister, whose regime had just sentenced 26 alleged Hizbullah operatives for purportedly planning attacks inside Egypt-from confessions extracted under torture no less-dismissed the accusations as "laughable."
Although Secretary of Defense Gates and Secretary of State Clinton intimated that Lebanon was inviting an attack on itself, the Obama administration could not confirm Hizbullah was in possession of the Scuds. In fact, several weeks after the story in Al-Rai Al-Aam appeared, the source of the leaked suspicions was revealed: the United States.
According to American officials, hinting that Syria was providing Hizbullah with Scuds was done in order to "lay the groundwork for a proposal to the U.N. Security Council to put together a resolution on the deployment of U.N. forces along the Syrian-Lebanese border."
Bint Jbeil MP Hassan Fadlallah of Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc came to a straightforward conclusion:
"The United States is asking us to accept "Israel's" alleged superiority to ensure "Israel" remains capable of launching attacks at its will while we are stripped of the ability to face these aggressions. We have no interest in acceding to these attempts to concretize "Israeli" superiority."
As for Nasrallah's response, in an April 29 interview with Kuwait's Rai TV he said, "We don't speak through the media about the rockets we have or their details."
It is understandable why the governments of Lebanon and Syria were so vocal in rejecting the Scud story. They want to stave off an "Israeli" attack-historically done under a flimsy (and often, manufactured) pretext. But why is Hizbullah being so deliberately elusive?
In essence, they are taking a page directly from the "Israeli" playbook; its longstanding policy of "nuclear ambiguity" has served it well.
Were Hizbullah to confirm the presence of Scud missiles (or any other technology for that matter), it would only invite condemnation and confirmation of floated suspicions, and justify belligerent action from its adversaries. Were they to deny possession, it would not only fail to placate their enemies, but might embolden thoughts of military action if believed. Thus, neither confirming nor denying the acquisition of new military equipment, in the eyes of Hizbullah, serves its interests best by keeping "Israel" guessing.
Does Hizbullah believe the U.S. and "Israel" will exploit the current situation to rationalize an attack? Nasrallah characterized their protestations as mere "noise" and "intimidation." He is already capitalizing on the strategy of "Scud ambiguity" though, by reminding Israel of the disastrous consequences should it recklessly decide to initiate an assault on Lebanon:
"Do we have what is more or less sophisticated than a Scud missile - these are details I don't want to speak about. If a war breaks out ... we said we will attack their ["Israeli"] infrastructure. We are able to fulfill these promises."
"Israel" would be wise to remember the 2007 admonition made by current Industry, Trade and Labor minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer: "We have to take Nasrallah seriously. He has never lied."