Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Syria, Iran Warm to Russia

Barak Ravid and Yoav Stern

Lebanon's eastern border with Syria is wide open to smugglers, according to a report submitted to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday by a task force he appointed to study the issue. The report harshly criticizes both Lebanon and Syria, saying there has been no improvement over the past year despite promises by both countries to address the issue.

Israel has long claimed that weapons from Iran and Syria flow freely across this border to Hezbollah, despite the embargo on such shipments imposed by Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006. This smuggling, Israel says, has given Hezbollah an arsenal that is both qualitatively and quantitatively superior to what it had before that war, and may even include sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles.
In addition, Hezbollah has built a network of sophisticated underground bunkers in some 150 villages throughout south Lebanon in recent months. These bunkers can hold up to 15 fighters, plus rockets and rocket launchers, and in the event of war with Israel, could serve either as missile-launching bases or as ambushes for Israeli ground troops. Neither the UN forces in Lebanon nor the Lebanese Army has done anything to stop construction of these bunkers.

The task force, appointed about 18 months ago, published a previous report in June 2007, which said that neither Syria nor Lebanon was doing anything to stop the smuggling. The current report reiterates this conclusion.

At the official border crossings, it said, the equipment is outdated, the personnel are poorly trained, and the inspections are inadequate to detect smuggling. There are also several well-known unofficial border crossings, which is where much of the smuggling occurs, and the task force found no impediments to reaching these locations.

At Lebanon's airport and ports, it added, the situation is better, but still unsatisfactory.

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