Syria provided Hezbollah with long and medium range surface-to-surface Scud missiles and is training Hezbollah operatives on how to operate them, the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper reported last week. The Scud D missiles, which can strike anywhere in Israel, and can carry biological or chemical agents, make Hezbollah the only non-governmental organization in the world to possess such weapons. Syria denies transferring the weapons.
In response, Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria of sinister motives: “Syria claims it wants peace while at the same time it delivers Scuds to Hezbollah whose only goal is to threaten the state of Israel,” he said. “Syria believes it need do nothing more than let itself be courted by the world, while saying one thing and doing the opposite.”
Also in response, on Monday the U.S. Senate postponed “until further notice” confirming Robert Ford’s position as the new ambassador to Damascus. President Obama nominated Ford in February in an effort to improve U.S.-Syria relations. Indeed, the Senate’s approval would have made Ford the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since 2005. The U.S. withdrew its ambassador from Syria that year after Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, was assassinated in Beirut. Many believe Syria was behind the operation.
These recent developments beg the question: should the U.S. even consider appointing an ambassador to the country at this time? Damascus’ continued relations and assistance to Hezbollah, not to mention its closeness with Iran, should be enough to make Washington re-think its strategy of engagement. As Matthew RJ Brodsky notes in the spring 2010 issue of inFOCUS, “the areas of ‘concern’ with the Asad regime are deep and will not be improved or resolved by the return of an American ambassador…The Obama administration should be ratcheting up the pressure on the Asad regime rather than easing its pain. Syria should be presented with difficult choices that will unequivocally and irreversibly demonstrate that it has changed its worldview and behavior, before being presented with rewards for future promises.”