Israeli missile test heightens Syria tensions

Reports that Hizbullah and Syrian army units deployed in readiness for US attack

A supporter of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad holds a placard during her participation with others in “Over our Bodies”, a campaign to organise human shields against possible US strikes, at Qasion Mountain overlooking the capital Damascus. Photograph:  Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters

A supporter of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad holds a placard during her participation with others in “Over our Bodies”, a campaign to organise human shields against possible US strikes, at Qasion Mountain overlooking the capital Damascus. Photograph: Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters

Wed, Sep 4, 2013, 01:00

Tensions over the Syrian crisis spiked briefly yesterday when Russian radar reported that two ballistic “objects” had been fired over the eastern Mediterranean.

Sources in Damascus said no explosions had been reported there and Israel, eventually, admitted it had been testing its US-funded anti-missile system.

The Israeli defence ministry said the test of the Arrow system had been conducted jointly with the United States. “The experiment tested enhanced capabilities of a new type of target missile from the Sparrow series. Arrow anti-missile defence systems, including radars and a command and control system, were also tested.”

It added: “The Sparrow missile successfully launched and performed its planned trajectory, in according with the test plan.” It was detected and tracked by the Arrow III missile defence system. “All the elements of the system performed according to their operational configuration.”

Hizbullah readies for action
The firings coincided with reports the Lebanese militant group Hizbullah has redeployed its forces in anticipation of a US attack on Syria. Lebanon’s Arabic daily, Al-Akhbar, said officers and fighters had been asked to “man their positions”.

Residents of towns and villages in the south and the eastern Bekaa Valley said veteran fighters had disappeared without explanation and turned off their mobile phones so they could not be traced.

Al-Akhbar has also said Syrian army units not so far deployed in the conflict have been mobilised and a joint operations room has been established with Hizbullah. It is estimated Hizbullah has about 30,000 fighters, 10,000 with experience. Some 800-1,000 are said to have taken part in the battle for the strategic Syrian town of Qusayr in June.

Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad has warned a US-led strike on his country would amount to an “aggression on the whole region and . . . will harm American interests”, adding that the Turkish government would not get away with participating in the aggression.

He accused the Arab League, which has urged the UN to act against the Syrian regime for, allegedly, using chemical weapons in the outskirts of Damascus, of “betraying the objectives it was built upon”.

Jamal, a young Syrian Palestinian who spent the day in Beirut, told The Irish Times yesterday that “people from the Damascus countryside are moving into the city, making it very difficult to find even a room. Flats are very expensive”. His family moved out of an apartment they had sub-let in Damascus because the tenants could not get visas for Egypt.

His mother and sisters went to Dubai, where a third sister is working. “It’s the first time my family has been split up.”

Asked if he thought the government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks on August 21st, he said, “They would not be so stupid to do this when the UN inspectors were 10 minutes’ drive away.”

But his driver, Abu Ahmad, disagreed. “Only the government has the ability to hit in both places.” Neither wanted their country attacked in retaliation.