Stirring Up Lebanese Civil Strife, Stoking Two Anti-Israel Warfronts
From DEBKA-Net-Weekly 272 Updated by DEBKAfile Special Military Report
October 16, 2006,
Expectations of an impending full-scale Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip were sent up a notch this week by the worrying news military intelligence AMAN chiefs put before the cabinet on Oct. 15.
Maj.-Gen Amos Yadlin and head of AMAN’s research division Brig.-Gen Yossi Baidatz reported deepening Syrian involvement in aggressive moves on three fronts: Damascus is pushing Iranian arms for Hizballah into Lebanon in blatant violation of Security Council resolution 1701 (as first revealed by DEBKAfile on Oct. 4), the first Syrian military instructors have arrived in the Gaza Strip to impart Hizballah’s combat tactics to Hamas and the Syrian army remains on a high state of preparedness.
These moves against Israel represent only half of Syrian president Bashar Asad’s grand design; and the weapons streaming to Hizballah are a small part of the arms smuggled into Lebanon. The lion’s share is destined for six pro-Syrian factions in Lebanon in preparation for the forcible overthrow of Fouad Siniora’s anti-Syrian government in Beirut, should his adherents in Beirut, spearheaded by Hizballah and his Maronite Christian general Michel Aoun, fail to attain power by political machinations.
A major step aimed at inflaming the Lebanese-Israel border region was taken by the pro-Syrian Lebanese chief of staff General Michel Suleiman last Friday, Oct. 13. He authorized Lebanese officers and men deployed on the border to summon Hizballah forces to fight in any border clash.
This order restored Hizballah to the flashpoint border zone just two months after it was supposedly evicted by the UN-brokered ceasefire of August 14. By getting Hizballah reinstated in its old frontline strongholds, Syria and Iran have put the finishing touches on one of the Lebanese front, one of their three war edifices against Israel after Gaza and Golan. These fronts are primed to squeeze Israel hard any time Iran comes under threat of military attack.
This encroaching multiple hazard catches the Israeli government and its armed forces without a remedy. The aftershocks of the Lebanon war are still not fully digested; neither are its mistakes admitted in Jerusalem.
UNIFIL too, which has committed to defer to the Lebanese government and army in all matters, now finds itself obliged to accept Hizballah’s inflammatory presence under Lebanese army sanction and therefore under its own aegis – another full-circle contradiction of the terms of Resolution 1701.
Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah domination is therefore in the bag. So too is the armament of Syria’s primary helpers in Lebanon, which were first outlined in detail by DEBKA-Net-Weekly of 272 of Oct. 6, 2006:
1. The largest recipients are Syria’s veteran tried-and-true allies, led by the clandestine Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), which is now awash with anti-tank rockets, mortars, heavy machine guns, explosives, automatic rifles and crates full of shells and other ammo. Made up mostly of Greek Orthodox Christians, the sinister SSNP has been a key operational arm of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon since the 1980s. It is closely allied with Hizballah and various other terrorist organizations.
2. Other major recipients are the Sunni Muslim militias of the northern Lebanese Tripoli district, the Sunni and Christian militias of the al Aakur region northwest of Tripoli, and the Christian Faranjieh Clan of Zgharta, whose lands lie southeast of Tripoli.
3. Then there are the communities who oppose the anti-Syrian factions of Lebanon. One is the Druze following of Talal Majid Arslan, rival of the extreme anti-Syrian Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt, who not only resists Syrian influence in Lebanon but is daggers drawn against the Asad regime in Damascus.
4. Syria is also rapidly arming the Maronite Christians of Michel Aoun’s Patriotic Movement. Aoun has become the most powerful Lebanese ally of Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah and the leading Maronite opponent of Fouad Siniora and his pro-American, pro-French government.
The irony is that in May 2005, the United States and France brought Aoun back from his long Paris exile as their candidate for the Lebanese presidency. Quite soon, they withdrew their patronage; he was left with the choice of quitting politics and Lebanon or transferring his allegiance to the pro-Syrian camp and Hizballah. He opted for the latter.
5. The Shiite Amal militia headed by the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, which in recent years was overshadowed by Hizballah, is now on the receiving end of weapons and training by Syrian and Iranian instructors disguised as civilians.
6. The south is a mix of rival forces. Syria has further stirred the stew by lavishing arms on the Sunni and Christian family militias, the enormously wealthy and powerful Saad and Bizari clans of Sidon, who are adversaries of the Hariri clan and its head, the son of Rafiq Hariri, the Lebanese politician assassinated in February 2005.
A senior Western intelligence source posted in Lebanon told DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources: “Even a cursory survey of the recipients of Syrian arms supplies shows us Bashar Asad scouting for candidates to fight another civil war in Lebanon on his behalf. The most insignificant splinter willing to rally to the pro-Syrian flag is getting a dollop of hardware.”
Asad is clearly in a hurry to capitalize on the setbacks his enemies suffered in the Lebanon war to turn the clock back and restore his stranglehold on his small neighbor by one means or another. A civil flare-up might be headed off by the success of Nasrallah’s scheme to displace the Siniora government and substitute a pro-Syrian administration dominated by his own Hizballah and General Aoun.
Damascus would profit by -
A: An invitation to come riding back into Lebanon for a deeper and broader role than ever before.
B: The humiliation of the United States and France for booting Syria out of Lebanon two years ago.
C: The crowning of Hizballah – and therefore Iran – as victors of the Lebanon war with the last word in this episode.
D. Another knock to Israel’s standing and reputation.
E. The European peacekeepers would be sent packing without further ado by the pro-Syrian government in Beirut.
For the time being, it is hard to see Ehud Olmert, his ministers and chief of staff, whose performance in the Lebanon was sorely wanting, finding their way out of the thickets which have sprung up in its aftermath.