Source Middle East Times
Monday, November 10, 2008
Published: November 10, 2008
SYRIA’S HAND IN LEBANON — Most of the proof of Syria’s hand in Fatah al-Islam’s reign of terror emerged after the end of the 15-week war between the group and the Lebanese army at Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon, during the summer of 2007. (UPI photo shows Nahr al-Bared during Lebanese military bombardments in June 2007.)
One leader that could not wait for U.S. President George W. Bush to be out of office is Syrian President Bashar Assad. Assad profusely congratulated his favored candidate: Barack Obama. President-elect Obama should be careful in his dealings with the Syrian regime. In fact, quite possibly, Assad might be pondering if he could get away with reoccupying Lebanon.
The whole strategy of finding excuses to re-invade Lebanon is little by little being put in place. The most ominous signs were the deployment of 10,000 Syrian special forces on the northern border followed by the recent deployment of additional troops on the eastern border. Syria explained that it was to prevent Sunni Salafists terrorists from entering Syrian territory.
The third step took place on Thursday when Syrian state television broadcast « confessions » from members of the Islamist terror group Fatah al-Islam (FAI).
Not only did the FAI militants admit being behind a suicide bombing in Damascus in September but also Wafa al-Absi, the daughter of FAI’s leader Shaker al-Absi, stated that FAI got money from Saad Hariri’s anti-Syrian Future Movement.
By undermining the current Lebanese parliamentary majority, Syria is trying one way or another to regain control of what it still considers part of its territory.
Why is this so obvious?
FAI is first and foremost a creation of the Syrian intelligence service that has been used to destabilize the Lebanese regime that kicked out the Syrian occupation army in 2005.
Numerous experts describe FAI as a Syrian vehicle influenced also by al-Qaida. Indeed, al-Qaida, which uses the Palestinian camps in Lebanon as a transit point, definitely influenced FAI, whose ideology went from the « liberation of Palestine » to a worldwide jihad against the crusaders and the Jews.
In November 2006, Salafist militants of FAI infiltrated Lebanon through Heloua, a remote Lebanese village out of reach for the Lebanese army since it is considered a Syrian enclave. According to a Western military expert, Palestinians have been receiving light weapons from Syria, which is then redistributed to other refugee camps in Lebanon.
So FAI settled in the Palestinian camp of Nahr al-Bared, in the north of Lebanon. Hostile to their presence, Fatah leaders in the camp stated that FAI’s only contact was with Syria. That is just the tip of the iceberg: a slew of facts clearly link up FAI to its Syrian patron. The confessions of the FAI commando arrested for the February 2007 bombing of two commuter buses carrying Lebanese Christians are very explicit on Syria’s role.
But most of the proof of Syria’s hand in FAI’s reign of terror emerged after the end of the 15-week war between FAI and the Lebanese army at Nahr al-Bared during the summer of 2007. Ghazi Aridi, the former Lebanese information minister, revealed that « some of [FAI]’s leaders were linked to Syrian security services. »
He added: « Lebanese intelligence and government seized many documents, films, recordings, all very compromising for Syrian intelligence. The confessions of the [Fatah al-Islam] terrorists [arrested during the Nahr al-Bared clashes] brought to light their links to some Syrian services, and the implication of the latter in the wave of explosions and attacks that have been rocking Lebanon for several years. »
Also General Ashraf Rifi, the general director of the Lebanese interior forces, affirmed that Lebanese authorities seized 90 kilos of biological material in the Nahr al-Bared camp belonging to FAI. That had to be provided by a regional power.
Finally, fighters from other pro-Syrian groups joined the FAI ranks and two of these groups, Fatah Intifada and PFLP-GC even delivered weapons to FAI. Lastly, just last month, the Lebanese army arrested five FAI members. But the leader of this cell, Abdel-Ghani Jawhar, allegedly fled to Syria just five minutes before the arrival of security forces.
In light of this, the « confessions » of the FAI members seem as an attempt by certain groups in Syria to link the recent terrorist attacks to Lebanon. Some analysts fear all this might be Damascus paving the way to a new Syrian intervention in Lebanon.
Olivier Guitta, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant, is the founder of the newsletter The Croissant (www.thecroissant.com).