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Hezbollah Fleeing the Syrian Ship?

Fateh 110 missileDEBKAfile, citing unspecified military sources, is reporting that Hezbollah is planning to pull its heavy, long-range missile systems out of storage in Syria and bring them to Lebanon. The arms in question are Iranian-made Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles, its Syrian equivalent the M-600, and the mobile SA-8 (Gecko) anti-air battery, which holds 18 warheads.

If this is true, it has some interesting implications.

First, it would place Israel in more immediate danger. According to DEBKAfile, a redeployment of the Fateh-110s and M-600s on Hezbollah’s turf in Lebanon would “place almost every corner of Israel within range of bombardment,” while the SA-8s would “seriously restrict Israeli Air Force operations over southern Lebanon and Galilee.”

Second, it would appear to present Israel with an unusual opportunity to strike the matériel while in transit. This would carry many risks, of course, including (as DEBKAfile notes) inadvertently disrupting the Syrian protest movement before it has had a chance to oust Assad. Still, Hezbollah’s transit of the arms — if it takes place — will represent an unusual moment of weakness.

Third, it indicates that Iran is losing faith in Assad to crush the Syrian uprising. (Hezbollah does nothing without instructions from Teheran.) If Hezbollah/Iran risks moving the goods, it implies that they fear they might fall into the hands of Assad’s opponents. DEBKAfile reports that there are signs of resentment of Assad’s treatment of the Syrian protesters not only among the lower ranks but also among officers of the Syrian 11th Division, which is “the best trained and organized of all Syrian army units, equipped as its strategic reserve with the most advanced weaponry. If the unrest has reached this elite unit,” DEBKAfile theorizes, “Hizballah reckons there is no time to losing for [sic] pulling its missiles out of Syrian military safekeeping.”

The moving of the arms is unconfirmed as yet, but there are other signs that Hezbollah/Iran is pulling away from its Syrian ally. Last week, an op-ed in the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese daily Al Akhbar criticized the Assad regime.