REPORTED EFFORTS BY Iran and Syria to resupply Hizbullah with missiles and other weapons are one of the most explosive issues in the aftermath of the July/August Middle East war. Israel and the US are adamant that the Shi'ite movement is being rearmed by Tehran and Damascus despite a widening diplomatic and military effort to block arms shipments by land, sea and air.
After lifting a two-month air, land and sea blockade imposed on Lebanon at the start of the 34-day war to curb clandestine arms shipments, Israel warned on 7 September it reserved the right to attack suspected arms convoys on the Lebanon-Syria border. Meanwhile, Damascus has threatened military action if international peacekeeping forces are deployed along its porous, poorly monitored border with Lebanon.
"Without international observers along the Lebanese-Syrian border there will be no solution," declared Walid Jumblatt, the anti-Syrian leader of Lebanon's Druze minority. "It will be impossible to stop trucks loaded with arms, ammunition and explosives from entering Lebanon."
The badly-equipped Lebanese Army has deployed a mechanised brigade along the mountainous 330km border, notorious as a smugglers' playground. The 8th Brigade is largely Christian and fought the Syrians in 1989 in a quixotic war aimed at ending Syrian domination of Lebanon and one which collapsed in disaster for the Christian forces in October 1990.
In some quarters, the deployment was seen as a demonstration of the divided Beirut government's resolve to halt the rearming of Hizbullah. But that remains to be seen. Before the war, Lebanese authorities turned a blind eye to arms shipments from Syria to avoid a confrontation with both Damascus and Hizbullah, Syria's key Lebanese ally. The UN can only deploy forces on the frontier with the permission of the Lebanese government and so far this has not been forthcoming.
According to diplomats in Beirut and reliable sources living along the border, clandestine weapons shipments are still entering Lebanon on a regular basis, even as Israeli reconnaissance aircraft, backed by US spy satellites, keep the region under surveillance. The US has identified at least nine border crossings it considers large enough for the shipment of medium and long-range missiles.
Hizbullah officials deny they are receiving new arms, claiming they still have sufficient stocks, despite their wartime blitz of some 3,800 rockets on northern Israeli towns and Israel's claim it destroyed an...