BEIRUT: Syria might take great care in concealing its military arsenal but it could have been exposed by the prying eyes of the internet, Israeli media reported on Friday.
Images viewable on satellite mapping service Google Earth reportedly show a secretive military base close to Damascus replete with long-range Scud missiles – the same warheads as Israel has accused Syria of supplying to Hizbullah.
The photos, taken on March 22, 2010, can be viewed on any standard web browser and are likely to further fuel the ongoing row over Hizbullah’s armament, the Israeli daily Haaretz wrote.
The paper claimed the photos hinted “Hizbullah militants” were active in Syria, although little evidence is given to corroborate the claim, save for additional mention of previous media charges made against the party.
“The photos also suggest that Hizbullah activists are being trained in the Scuds’ use at the base,” it said. “They show extensive construction at several military bases throughout Syria.”
The Adra base is one of Syria’s three largest and situated 25 kilometers northeast of Damascus, in a small valley surrounded by mountains.
“The photos show five 11-meter-long missiles (the length of both Scud B and Scud C) at the Adra base. Three are on trucks in a parking lot. Two others are in a training area where 20 to 25 people can be made out along with about 20 vehicles. One of the two missiles appears to be mounted on a mobile launcher; another is on the ground,” Haaretz reported.
Former long-term security adviser to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Timur Goksel cast doubt on the paper’s claim that Hizbullah members were identifiable from satellite images. “Maybe they are wearing Hizbullah t-shirts. These claims are nothing new; Israel has been talking about this kind of thing for a long time and it is a pretty weak claim,” he told The Daily Star.
In April, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai reported that Hizbullah had received long-range Scud missiles – capable of targeting Israel and bringing major cities such as Tel Aviv and Jaffa in the party’s range – from Syria.
Israeli President Shimon Peres highlighted this report as a legitimate warning, claims pounced upon by Washington lawmakers. Several members of US Congress also appeared to corroborate the idea that Hizbullah had already received the missile transfers which, if true, would constitute a flagrant violation of international law. Lebanon, Syria and independent UN monitors have all stressed that no proof has been found.
Israel has long held that Hizbullah continues to rearm itself in contravention of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701 – which stipulate no arms can exist inside Lebanon outside of state control – and frequently complains to the UN to this affect.
Goksel said that while the latest images did not offer proof of Hizbullah activities, it was possible party members were learning to use such rockets outside of Lebanon.
“Hizbullah cannot train on large weapons in this country, because everyone is watching everyone. It’s clear that advanced training could happen in Syria and Iran,” he said.