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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What's Syria up to?

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert invited Lebanese President Fouad Siniora to meet with him face to face for 'peace talks.' Siniora promptly refused. Within hours, Siniora's office issued a statement saying that Lebanon would be the "last country" to make peace with Israel. Siniora may be right but not for the reason he thinks: if DEBKAfile got it right this morning, Lebanon may soon not exist as an independent country.

DEBKAfile is reporting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is plotting the overthrow of Fouad Siniora and the installation of a pro-Syrian government in Lebanon. It's no secret that Syria believes that Lebanon is really part of 'greater Syria,' and Assad's ultimate aim is to act on that belief. Additionally, Syria is arming Hezbullah in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and is maintaining its army in a 'defensive' high alert posture. This is the same posture the Syrian army was in immediately before they started the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Finally, Syria has entered into an agreement with Hamas, pursuant to which it is bringing Hamas up to Hezbullah's fighting standards by stationing training instructors in the Gaza Strip.

But what's new in this morning's DEBKAfile report is that most of the weapons Syria is smuggling into Lebanon are not going to Hezbullah - they are going to six pro-Syrian factions (which DEBKAfile names) that are seeking to forcibly overthrow Fouad Siniora's government, should Hezbullah and pro-Syrian Maronite Christian President Michele Aoun not succeed in doing so 'politically.' DEBKAfile says that Syria has already arranged for Hezbullah's restored presence on the border with Israel:
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 Blogger Anton Efendi confirms that Syria is trying to play its cards in Lebanon and not just in Israel:
As for "exploring ideas," or as the regime's caricaturish ambassador put it, "brainstorming," ummm, let's not. For "Syria would gain 90 per cent of what it wants, just by being engaged." In fact, if you listen to the flaks, esp. the US-based ones, you'd quickly realize that this is the case and this is precisely what's being sought. The process is the end goal; selling nothing, at an ever increasing price (we went from "land for peace" and "Assad is obsessed with the Golan" [no better example of "utter bull"], to "acknowledging Syria's 'special role' in Lebanon." Wait, why just Lebanon, "Syria's role in the Middle East" [why not give him a slice of Iraq too, and the Palestinians while we're at it!]. If you, like the ridiculous Fred Kaplan, didn't immediately realize that you were being taken for a ride by dishonest flaks, then let Assad himself clarify it for you: "Were we to resolve our territorial dispute with Israel over the Golan Heights alone, we wouldn't achieve stability." But of course... We always knew it was never about the Golan, as Former French Defense Minister Alain Richard put it: "[O]ne of Syria's main assets is its domination over Lebanon. Consequentially, any settlement that would call into question its domination over Lebanon, even if it means regaining Syrian territory (from Israel), does not suit it.").

...

I should continue to remind people that it was the Syrians who lobbied hard to make sure that any mention of "normalization" with Israel was removed from the Saudi plan in 2002.
Lebanese blogger Beirut Spring confirms that Aoun - Assad's ally - has already started to provoke a civil war in Lebanon:
If you’re an “external destabilizing party” and you want to provoke a Sunni-Shia rift in Lebanon, what better way can you think of than sending a bunch of troublemakers to bomb a neighborhood associated with the Sunni Hariri’s rebuilding efforts, using weapons that are commonly available to Hezbollah fighters?

That was precisely what happened this Dawn when a group of armed people fired three rocket-propelled grenades onto a building in the Beirut Central District, an Icon of the March 14 elite. Fortunately, only a few people were hurt and the rest was material damage, but who did it and why?

To be sure, the explosions are part of a general trend of security disruption. But this particular incident has a lot of significance.

It happened the same day Michel Aoun, a Christian opposition leader, was planning to make a fiery speech demanding the government’s resignation in front of thousands of supporters (the event was cancelled because of bad weather).

The instigator could have calculated that the Sunnis would be in no mood to hear their beloved Prime Minister bashed from the same person who dismissed Hariri’s tribunal as a waste of time. Let alone if that happens the same day their cherished central district was bombed with weapons similar to those at the disposal of Hezbollah, who is also allied with Aoun.
Lebanese blogger From Beirut to the Beltway has a more detailed account of the same attack.

The bottom line in all this is that Assad is attempting to move against Israel and Lebanon by fomenting civil war in Lebanon and by allying himself with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. He is not worthy of 'peace talks.'

P.S. From Beirut to the Beltway has a poll on its home page that asks what the greatest external threat to Lebanon is today. As of now, Syria leads at 40.3% and Iran is second at 32.3%. Israel is a distant third at 15.7%. Someone better tell Fouad Siniora to watch his backside.

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