Alex Spillius, Richard Spencer and Adrian Blomfield – Telegraph.co.uk April 15, 2010
A war between Israel and Hizbollah that could spread across the Middle East is "imminent", King Abdullah of Jordan has warned the US.
The king, in Washington for President Barack Obama's nuclear summit, gave his warning after Israel claimed that Syria had handed over Scud missiles in its armoury to the Lebanon-based Hizbollah.
His comments, which were made to private meeting of the US Congressional Friends of Jordan caucus were said to be "sobering".
Syria yesterday denied the allegation that it has provided Hizbollah with long-range Scud missiles, which would allowing them to target Israel's cities. The country's foreign ministry said the claims would be used as a pretext by Israel to raise tension prior to a possible attack on Hizbollah.
"For some time now, Israel has been running a campaign claiming that Syria has been supplying Hizbollah with Scud missiles
in Lebanon ," a foreign ministry statement released yesterday said.
"Syria strongly denies these allegations which are an attempt by Israel to raise tensions in the region."
However, the statement did not appear to rule out an alternative possibility being raised by defence sources, that Damascus has allowed Hizbollah control of or access to Scud missiles still currently in Syria .
Similar sources say that Syria has trained Hizbollah operatives on advanced anti-aircraft batteries, possibly a more useful tool since Hizbollah – and the Lebanese army - fears the overwhelming air superiority enjoyed by Israeli jets.
The Obama administration voiced alarm, though one source said it was still not certain whether the transfer had yet physically taken place.
"We are obviously increasingly concerned about the sophisticated weaponry that is allegedly being transferred," said Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman. "We have expressed our concerns to those governments and believe that steps should be taken to reduce any risk and any danger."
Allegations of the Scud transfer have continued to cause unease at a time when many other political issues in the Middle East are at an impasse.
Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, said that the alleged transfer would alter the strategic balance of power between Hizbollah and Israel, which fought a short but bloody war in 2006.
An aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said that the pace of Hizbollah's re-armament and Syria's role in it was causing growing alarm in the Jewish state.
"We are very conscious of the build-up of Hizbollah's military machine," the aide said. "We have unfortunately seen new types and greater quality of missiles. The Syrian role in passing those weapons to Hizbollah is ongoing and is dangerous."
Al-Rai, the Kuwaiti newspaper which first raised the allegations, said a Hizbollah source had confirmed it had access to Scuds but that they were old and unusable. The source said the issue was being blown out of proportion by Israel in order to create a media frenzy.
The newspaper did, however, link the claims to Hizbollah's threat that if Lebanese infrastructure, such as Beirut Airport , came under attack in the event of conflict, Israel would be hit in turn, including towns at the edge of the range of Hizbollah's known missile arsenal.
What is undisputed is that all sides are raising the stakes in the absence of negotiations between Israel and either Palestinian factions or Syria .
The Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, has balanced overtures to Washington with reassurances that his alliances with both Hizbollah and Iran remain strong.
He held a high-profile meeting in Damascus with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and the Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in February.
Officials in Syria have warned that it would join in any war involving Israel, Lebanon and Hizbollah.
Last updated 19/04/2010