Defense Minister Ehud Barak was hosted on Tuesday at the Pentagon by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. After an honor guard welcome, the two men held a press briefing affirming their shared commitment to the US-Israel relationship and strong military ties in the face of shared regional threats.
Gates spoke of the growing capabilities of Hizbullah, though he didn’t confirm reports that it had acquired Scud missiles from Damascus.
“Syria and Iran are providing Hizbullah with rockets and missiles of ever- increasing capability,” he said. “We are at a point now where Hizbullah has far more rockets and missiles than most governments in the world. And this is obviously destabilizing for the whole region, and so we’re watching it very carefully.”
Barak underscored the threat of Iran to the wider Middle East and international community, expressing support for the American sanctions-and-diplomacy approach at the current time but warning that it should be of short duration.
“The time is clearly, at this stage, time for sanctions and diplomacy. We expect the sanctions to be effective and to be limited in time so we will be able to judge to what kind of results stem from the sanctions regime,” he said.
A Hizbullah official on Wednesday slammed Gates’s comments accusing the group of having more weapons than most governments, and pledged to continue arming.
Lawmaker Hassan Fadlallah said Hizbullah’s weapons and those of the US and Israel are not to be compared.
His remarks, which were published by the Lebanese daily As-Safir, came in response to statements made by the defense secretary accusing Syria and Iran of supplying Hizbullah with increasingly sophisticated weaponry.
“Our choice was and still is to secure all the arms of resistance that
we can,” Fadlallah said. “There is a great difference between weapons
that only serve invasions, occupations and aggressions, such as those
of the United States and its ally Israel... and weapons of an honorable
resistance that liberates, protects and defends.”
The reports prompted the Obama administration to say last week that it
has repeatedly warned Syria that transferring ballistic missiles to
Hizbullah could spark a war in the Middle East.
Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan,
expressed concern over reports of weapons smuggling to Hizbullah
through Syria, calling the alleged arms transfers a “threat to the
stability and security of Lebanon and the region.”
Brennan, who met with Lebanese officials on Tuesday as part of a visit
to several countries in the region, said the only legitimate weapons in
the country are those held by the Lebanese state.