Despite close defense ties, the defense establishment refused numerous requests from France for evidence to back up Israeli claims that Syria last year transferred long-range Scud missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon, visiting former French defense minister Hervé Morin told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Last April, Israeli defense officials said that Syria had transferred long-range Scud missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon. A month later, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, that Hezbollah was storing the missiles inside Syrian military bases.

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“I asked a number of times to receive evidence to back up Israel’s claims,” said Morin, who served was defense minister until November and currently leads the New Center Party. “They never presented proof, which raises question marks about the claims to begin with.”

Morin, 49, said that he was asked by the French government to cancel his trip to Israel due to the current upheaval in the Middle East but he decided to go ahead with the trip due to its importance. During the interview, Morin wore a “Free Gilad Schalit” button that he had received on Sunday during a visit to the abducted soldier’s parents, Aviva and Noam.

“I promised that my first trip would be to Israel,” he said. “I came for political meetings but also to learn about the country’s economic success and how, despite the complicated security challenges it faces, it has still succeeded economically.”

While he questioned the veracity of the Israeli claims regarding the transfer of Scuds to Hezbollah, Morin stressed the need to bolster the Lebanese Armed Forces, which he said is a key player in ensuring that Lebanon remains an independent country.

In December, Israeli defense officials expressed concern with a French decision to transfer HOT anti-tank missiles to the Lebanese army. Israel’s concern is that the missiles could fall into the hands of Hezbollah and be used against the IDF.

“It is in our interest that the LAF is strong and that there is stability within Lebanon,” he said, rejecting the criticism of the possible sale. “Lebanon is an independent country and we need to strengthen the official government there to ensure it remains independent.”

On Sunday, Morin held talks with Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and President Shimon Peres that focused on the Iranian nuclear threat. According to a US diplomatic cable published recently by WikiLeaks, Morin was told by his American counterpart, Robert Gates, in February 2010 that Israel could strike Iran’s nuclear facilities without US support.

In Monday’s interview, Morin came out unequivocally against an Israeli military strike, warning of the regional ramifications. He also warned against Iran succeeding in obtaining nuclear power that would set off a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East. Morin referred to the ongoing demonstrations in Iran and said that they had the potential to topple the Islamist regime.

“We shouldn’t even think about military action,” he said. “We need effective sanctions. What is happening in Libya could also happen in Iran, and that could be a good thing.”

The Defense Ministry declined to comment.



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