Syria Departs Lebanon: Sets up Syrian Influence Over Terror Operations In Israel


July 8,2003

Strategic Retreat Out Of Lebanon

After 27 years in Lebanon, the Syrian army is completing its evacuation of the country, including even the strategic Beirut-Damascus highway. Some 40,000 Syrian troops have retired from the country, barring a small pocket in the eastern Beqaa Valley abutting the Syrian frontier, where DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Beirut sources report two armored brigades are stationed to guard the routes from Lebanon to the Syrian capital. The rest of the Syrian Lebanese garrison has been redeployed on the Syrian side of the border.

President Bashar Assad and his administration were not eager to pull their forces out of Lebanon, but decided it would be the cheapest way to appease the Americans after discovering an American-Saudi plan to transform Lebanon from a country torn by civil strife and dominated by armed militias, including the Hizballah, into a state with an orderly central government and armed forces, fit to regain its old pre-1975 civil war position as financial and banking center of the Middle East. This transformation would not have worked under Syrian-Hizballah domination, especially with the latter branded by Washington a terrorist organization with links to al Qaeda.

Assad hopes that the Bush administration will show its gratitude by forgiving Syria’s other misdeeds, such as its sponsorship of 10m Palestinian terrorist organizations and its intervention in Iraq. He asked Egyptian president Mubarak this week to intercede with Washington in his favor as well persuading the Middle East Quartet to give him a place on the Palestinian-Israel road map to peace.

The Syrian ruler, though unlikely to be let off lightly, might have gained points from his army’s exit from Lebanon had he acted in good faith. However, according to our sources, he assigned General Rustum Ghazaleh, head of Syria’s intelligence station in Lebanon, to set up a joint Syrian-Lebanese network with the Lebanese internal security chief, Gamal al Sayed that will maintain Syria’s intelligence grip on Lebanon and set limits for the US-Saudi hold on Beirut.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and counter-terror sources have discovered the Hizballah matching Syria’s military movements by rolling up its positions and removing many of its lookout posts along the Israeli frontier and avoiding outright provocations of Israel. But, like the Syrians, the Hizballah may be changing its tactics, but not its goals or ways. General secretary Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, is in the midst of a struggle for control of the smuggling routes of drugs, arms and money inside Lebanon and across the Middle East and Persian Gulf. He looks like achieving his objective in the short term thanks to the powerful and far-flung intelligence network the terrorist organization maintains in the region, in North and South America, Europe and Western and Eastern Africa. But he and Hizballah’s Iranian and Syrian sponsors are at the same time pumping fighting strength, explosives and cash into Palestinian areas in the West bank and Gaza Strip, and sleeper cells into Israeli Arab communities. The new Syrian-Hizballah deployments have therefore had the effect of bringing Damascus-based Palestinian terrorists and the Hizballah threat much deeper in Palestinian territory and positioned for menacing Israel at point-blank range. Thus far, Washington has not responded.

Terrorist leaders return to Damascus

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources revealed on July 4 the return of Hamas leaders Khaled Mashal and Musa Abu Marzuk and Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, head of the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, to Damascus last week. Their Syrian bases were reopened notwithstanding the Syrian president’s assurances to Washington in late April 2003 that the terrorists’ command centers had been shut down and their leaders sent out of Damascus.

The fact of the matter is that not a single command center had stopped operating. For a short time, the top terrorists traveled outside Damascus now and again, often giving their media interviews from Lebanon or Qatar. However, this week, even that pretence was abandoned when President Bashar Assad personally requested their return to their old operational headquarters in the Syrian capital. He needed them close at hand to execute his latest plan of action.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources reveal that the Syrian leader asked Hamas and Islamic Jihad to send their operations officers over to Syrian military intelligence headquarters to work with his liaison officers on the drafting of “urgent” operational plans for smuggling terrorist infiltrators into the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel.

Their mission: To carry out multi-casualty terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. The Syrian president believes the operational interaction of terrorist squads from Lebanon and Syria with Yasser Arafat’s Tanzim and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades squads in the main cities of the West Bank will produce a convulsion violent enough to torpedo the Bush’s peace plan and bring Abbas’ reformist government crashing down.

Bent on his anti-American course, the Syrian ruler plans to step up guerrilla attacks to sabotage the Iraq-Turkish oil pipeline from northern Iraq to the Mediterranean, as well as its anti-American hate propaganda.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources count more anti-American Syrian actions as they come to light

A. Interrogations of Iraqis and Syrians caught on the Iraqi-Syrian frontier have yielded evidence that East Syrian towns are transit points for Saddam Hussein’s top officials who come and go at will. Syrian banks are furthermore the main conduit for the movement of hundreds of millions of dollars from the old regime for use in a wide range of activities, including military operations against American forces. The Syrians are charging an arm and a leg for every individual Iraqi or group crossing the border – a sort of transit tax. The money helps compensate Syria for revenue lost when the United States shut down the Iraqi-Syrian oil pipeline.

B. Syrian channels of communications serve to keep Saddam and his sons abreast of developments in Iraq whenever they are out of the country and the outside world when they are back home.

C. From messages and documents such as travel papers, birth certificates and passports – all carrying official stamps but with identification details left blank – found on captured couriers, the role of the Belarus embassy in Damascus has come into sharper focus. It has become a sort of intelligence-logistical center catering to all the needs of Saddam, his sons and top Iraqis.

D. Some 50 to 100 senior Iraqis are currently in Syria.

E. Just as Syria is a byway station for Saddam’s clique, Damascus international airport is a useful way station for Al Qaeda commanders moving around the Middle East and Gulf.

Damascus has not only become the mainline hub of anti-American opposition forces in the region, Syria is constantly raising the stakes of its campaign against Washington.

[Emphasis added]