A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending January 14, 2005:
Saudi, Egyptian Leaders Pull the Democracy Rug from Under Washington
9 January: Moderate Arab leaders aimed a damaging broadside at key US-sponsored election ventures, the more painful for its timing in the month when ballots were scheduled both in the Palestinian Authority and Iraq. It was fired inconspicuously by 21 Arab interior ministers gathered in Tunis last week.
debkafile‘s Washington sources report that, ahead of the event, Saudi and Egyptian governments promised Washington and Baghdad motions condemning Iraqi terrorism and throwing a supportive mantle over the two January elections. What happened in Tunis left the Americans outraged by what they saw as a betrayal by their purported Arab friends. The key resolution said: “Arab interior ministers condemned all terrorist acts in Iraq targeting Iraqi security agents and the Iraqi police, as well as businesses and public, economic, humanitarian and religious institutions.” There was not a single cross word for the acts of violence against American troops or coalition allies.
Adding fuel to the fire, Saudi interior minister Prince Nayef called a news conference after the event to pull out the old chestnut of another intractable conflict: “The Palestinians are not engaged in a war of terror,” he said, “but self-defense.”
Authoritative endorsement of Palestinian violence from a purportedly pro-American, moderate Arab League leader put the lid on the faint prospect of the new Palestinian leader dealing with the violence.
debkafile‘s Washington sources add that the administration views the performance of its Arab friends at Tunis as one of the most painful contretemps it has suffered in the war on global terror, a pan-Arab seal on the dangerous erosion of authority in the three terror-bound arenas struggling for stability: Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian Authority.
In those places, two-headed power bases are emerging. The US-approved central governments, which are too feeble to come to grips with the terrorists, and the hostile paramilitary forces which have dug their claws into the country and control it by violence.
US and Iraq All Set for Strike against Syria. Israel Is Braced for Hizballah Second Front
11 January: Last Sunday, January 2, US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage performed his last major mission. It took him to Damascus with nine American demands.
The Syrian ruler protested he is doing everything he can to hold back the flow of guerrilla fighters and weapons into Iraq. As proof, he ordered Syria’s chief of staff General Ali Habib to establish a forward command center on the Syrian-Iraq border to oversee efforts to control border traffic on the spot.
The fact is that General Habib is one of the few Syrian officers whom the Americans trust after working with him in 1991 when he commanded the Syrian units dispatched to Saudi Arabia for the first Gulf War. However, even Habib’s old American buddies do not rule out the possibility that he was posted to the border not to restrain the traffic but to take command of Syrian units and prepare them for an American military offensive.
Assad and General Habib are both aware, according to our sources, of the near carte blanche handed down to US Iraq commander General George Casey to pursue military action against Syria as and when indicated by US military requirements in Iraq.
In this regard, debkafile‘s military sources note four important points:
1. It will not take place before President Bush is sworn in for his second term on January 20 or Iraq’s general election ten days later.
2. The Americans will not start out with a large-scale, orderly military offensive, but rather short in-and-out forays; small US and Iraqi special forces units will cross the border and raid bases housing Iraqi guerrillas or buses carrying them to the border. If these brief raids are ineffective, the Americans will upscale the action.
3. The Allawi government will formally request the United States to consign joint Iraqi-US forces for action against Syrian targets.
4. It is taken into account that intense American military warfare against Syria could provoke a Hizballah backlash against Israel. Instead of striking back at US or Iraqi targets, Syria could order cross-border attacks and strikes by the Palestinian terrorist cells Syria and Hizballah control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Through Arms to Syria, Putin Challenges US Game Rules for Middle East
12 January: Disturbing reports were coming out of the Russian capital Wednesday, January 12, about Russian president Vladimir Putin’s plan to accede to Syria’s request for advanced weaponry during president Bashar Assad’s visit to Moscow on January 24. debkafile‘s US and Israeli security sources quickly contradicted reports that 18 Iskander-M or SS-X-26 surface-to-surface missiles were on the table. The items for sale, they revealed, are advanced SA-10 air defense systems of the type that protects Moscow and shoulder-held SA-18 anti-air missiles, whose transfer to the Hizballah and/or Iraqi guerrillas would move at least two sets of goal posts in the Middle East balance of strength.
The Kremlin’s willingness to sell these items to Israel’s northern neighbor and backer of Iraqi insurgents is a rocket from the Putin to the White House in Washington, a declaration that he has had enough of sitting on the sidelines and watching US move the January 30 election pieces around the Iraq board and tilt the Palestinian ballot in favor of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as Yasser Arafat’s successor.
The Russian president’s exasperation boiled over when he saw Washington’s hand in the Ukraine presidential election stirring up the anti-Moscow Orange Revolution that brought opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to office, and, again, in the sale of the Russian oil concern Yukos. The Russian leader felt he had been made the target of a well- orchestrated campaign for undermining him personally and politically.
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon is also put on notice that Washington’s backing alone does not lend him the status of unilateral player for disengagement in the Palestinian arena.
The Russian leader has another large bone to pick with Sharon. He has complained often on the basis of intelligence received that Israel provides a backstairs rendezvous venue for Jewish Russian oligarchs conspiring against him, among them Berizovsky who lives in London, and Khodorovsky, founder of the oil giant YUKOS who sits in a Moscow jail.
The Kremlin’s decision to supply advanced SA-10 and SA-18 missiles to Syria constitutes a direct threat to Israel. But it is also a shot across Washington’s bows.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, Putin and his top strategists can sit back and see how Washington and Jerusalem react.