A New US Bid to Snatch Lebanon from the Jaws of Iran, Syria and al Qaeda
Middle East observers were taken by surprise and much intrigued by the unannounced arrival in Beirut of Gen. David Petraeus, US Army Central Command chief Tuesday, Dec. 2.
He spent only three hours in the Lebanese capital, long enough only to sit down with Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora and army chief Gen. Jean Qahwaji.
American sources told the curious that Gen. Petraeus wanted to get better acquainted with the new Lebanese army chief. Lebanese sources reported he had come to lay down certain American red lines. The said he had informed officials in Beirut that they would not receive any arms before Lebanon's parliamentary elections in spring and no heavy weapons before or after the polls. This was because it was US military strategy in the region to preserve Israel's military edge.
The American general made it clear that the Lebanese government and army's top priority must be to fight international terrorism, which finds fertile ground in their country, particularly in the North and in some Palestinian camps, such as Ain el-Hilweh in the South.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources disclose that this Beirut visit was Gen. Petraeus' third in six weeks – a record breaker compared with any other capital in his area of command.
His business there was of the highest importance:
1. Lebanon has taken the place of Iraq as America's key secondary area of conflict with Iran, Syria and, up to a point, with al Qaeda too.
Whereas the Pakistan-Afghanistan front (to which India has now been attached) is America's main arena of confrontation with al Qaeda, Lebanon is quickly moving up as a primary stage – not only against Iran and Syria but Osama bin Laden's jihadists too.
Washington establishes Beirut mission, a DIY project to save Lebanon
2. After Israel's 2006 Lebanon war fiasco and the Lebanese army's bloody confrontation with the Fatah al-Islam (linked to both al Qaeda and Syrian military intelligence), Washington has resolved to rely on no one in the country, including Saudi elements, to save Lebanon from being grabbed by the Iran-Syria-Hizballah bloc; at the same time, large sections of the Sunni and Palestinian population would fall into al Qaeda hands.
Our sources reveal that a large US military-intelligence mission has set up house in Beirut and is keeping under surveillance every Lebanese army and intelligence movement as well as their operations against al Qaeda operatives.
A quiet watch is also being kept on Hizballah and Lebanon's other militias, like the Druzes, the Christian Phalange and the Change and Reform Bloc, whose leader, Michel Aoun has ingratiated himself with Tehran and Damascus to attain his ambition of becoming their leading Christian player in Beirut, like Hassan Nasrallah for the Shiite community.
The new American base in Beirut transcends the communal, religious, political and personal feuds bedeviling the Lebanese capital. Its activities, after approval by Gen. Petraeus who refers them to Washington for confirmation, affect the Lebanese army and intelligence services as well as the interplay of political forces in the capital.
Two Christian leaders gravitate to Tehran
In a broad sense, just as Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been given a role in US dealings with Pakistan, Gen. Petraeus has been assigned the Lebanese front. This is a major step in keeping with defense secretary Robert Gates' integrationist perception of foreign and security policies.
More immediately, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report, Petraeus was called to Beirut in response to a US intelligence tip-off that Lebanese president Michel Sleiman, on his recent state visit to Tehran, showed an interest in Iranian, Russian and French heavy weapons, including tanks, warplanes and self-propelled artillery.
The American general did not meet Sleiman this time round, but he made sure to inform the prime minister and army chief in no uncertain terms that the US would not permit the introduction of heavy weapons into Lebanon from any source.
Until recently, Washington was willing to work with Sleiman. It has been put off by the president's turn to Tehran and Damascus and his bid to build himself a personal power base by importing heavy war material for the Lebanese army, of which he is a former chief of staff.
Gen. Petraeus warned Lebanese leaders to keep their eye on the ball, which is preventing al Qaeda's tentacles from spreading through the country.