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Hezbollah Hedges Its Bets and Pulls Its Arsenal Out of Syria

President Obama’s speech last month, in which he handed the Palestinians the unprecedented option of using the 1967 lines as a precondition for peace negotiations with Israel, was viewed by many as evidence of his irredeemable bias — indeed, as a sign of his desertion of Israel. He has also taken heat for his toothless response to the carnage in Syria, where he appears to be cowed by President Bashar al-Assad’s relationship with Teheran. Fear of the Islamic Republic seems to be the only explanation for his wildly inconsistent response to similar outrages in Libya.

Obama’s bias against Israel may well be real, but assertions that he is either hopelessly intimidated by Teheran or flatly opposed to intervention in Syria might be premature.

DEBKAfile has observed that the US military deployed an amphibious assault vessel — the USS Bataan — opposite Syria’s Mediterranean coast two weeks ago. (The Bataan might be familiar to you as one of the “black sites” on which enhanced interrogation techniques were allegedly used against terrorist suspects; it was also the ship on which John Walker Lindh was transported back to the US. ) In addition, the USS Monterrey, which is armed with Aegis surface missile interceptors, has been stationed in the Black Sea. There are reports, too, of a build-up of ship-borne anti-missile strength in the Mediterranean basin.

DEBKAfile concludes from these movements that the US is preparing to defend American and Israeli interests in the event that they are targeted following an American intervention in Syria.

Now, DEBKAfile is notoriously alarmist. But in this instance, Teheran — which has notably kicked up the anti-US rhetoric of late — seems to have drawn similar conclusions.

Evidence of their alarm is to be seen in the reports, emerging this weekend, that Hezbollah — which does not act without orders from its masters in Iran — is taking the risky step of transporting its arsenal out of storage in Syria and into Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. As a hedge against its provision of fighters to back up the Syrian regime, Hezbollah is evacuating truck convoys loaded with long-range Iranian ordnance, according to a report in Le Figaro. Several intelligence agencies have spotted the trucks, which are said to contain hundreds of Zilzal, Fajr 3 and Fajr 4 rockets.

The shifting of Hezbollah’s arms out of Syria and into Lebanon serves three tactical purposes for Iran: it pulls the weapons out of range of an American strike on Syria; it keeps them out of the hands of potential unfriendlies should Assad fall; and — provided the arms arrive intact — it strengthens Hezbollah’s hand against Israel. Zilzals are heavy artillery rockets that can carry a 1,300-pound warhead about 130 miles. If they reach Beirut, Tel Aviv will be comfortably within their range.

It remains to be seen whether or not Israel will be able to resist the understandable temptation to strike Hezbollah’s arms while they’re in transit. If she does strike, Iran might accomplish a tidy feat of strategic sleight of hand. All eyes would instantly be shifted to the new Israel-Hezbollah war — a war kicked off by an Israeli attack, no less — and away from Assad’s butchering of his own citizens. From the point of view of both Teheran and Damascus, that’s a dream scenario.

In the days following his speech on the 1967 borders, President Obama did his best to walk back his apparent sellout of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He may have an opportunity — possibly quite soon, by the look of things — to demonstrate that his support for Israel remains steadfast.