Syrian president Bashar Assad said in a speech Thursday, April 17 that his country was getting ready for war with Israel. He added enigmatically that war is possible although he sees no signs of it. He was addressing a conference in Damascus on Pan-Arab Thought Revival and Arab Destiny.
By championing the Palestinian fundamentalist Hamas to the hilt, the Syrian ruler has become the Gaza Strip’s wire-puller, who determines whether or not the Palestinians launch a full-blown war against Israel and Egypt. This view was advanced by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle East sources.
Both borders are already simmering.
Tuesday, the semi-official Egyptian al Ahram daily ran an out-and-out condemnation of Palestinian fundamentalist Hamas for the first time in Hosni Mubarak’s 26 years as president. The paper revealed what it described as Hamas’ war plan against Egypt – starting with a large-scale military operation to breach the Egyptian Gaza border a second time. The first time two months ago, Hamas staged a mass popular Palestinian exodus to smash the Gaza border with Sinai. This time, Hamas forces are ranged along the border; are ready to reopen the smuggling tunnels running under the Philadelphi border strip and preparing to strike Egyptian security troops from the rear with missiles and mortar fire.
Explosives were reported planted ready to blow up the four-kilometer border and blast Egypt’s tall new wall.
No Arab government has ever publicly accused the Palestinian fundamentalists of planning an assault on its sovereign territory.
On the day of the al Ahram denunciation, the US president’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley arrived in Israel to prepare George W. Bush‘s May 14 visit and talk to the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ahead of his Washington trip next Thursday, April 24.
Assad cuts Abbas out of the Gaza equation
Hadley caught Abbas in Ramallah the day before the Palestinian leader set out for Amman. He was due next in Moscow to take his leave of Vladimir Putin as Russian president.
Straight after his conversation with Hadley, Abbas picked up the phone to Assad.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources disclose the gist of that conversation.
The Palestinian leader reported that Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert would agree to an informal Gaza ceasefire on two conditions: Hamas must stop shooting missiles at Israeli locations and give up smuggling weapons and fighters through Sinai to the Gaza Strip.
The Syrian president said he would send his reply to the Egyptian intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman.
This was a rude snub.
Assad was informing Abbas that he had no standing on questions of hostilities involving the Gaza Strip, although he officiated formally as chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Assad made it clear that the finger pushing Gaza’s remote control button was Damascus’.
Wednesday, as the American official held talks in Jerusalem, intense fighting erupted between Hamas and Israeli forces and scores of missiles and mortars flew from Gaza into Israel. Instead of storming the Gaza-Egyptian border as predicted, Hamas fighters hurled themselves against the border barrier with Israel.
The battles were still ongoing when this issue was closed late Thursday, April 17.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources confirm that the Syrian ruler is prepared to back the Damascus-based Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal and its Gaza leaders all the way to bust the US-backed Egyptian and Israeli blockades of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. He is willing even to risk a full-blown war that could spread from the Israeli-Gaza sector and bring Israel’s northern border under Hizballah attack.
Egypt opts out of Gaza hostilities
Syrian divisions last week massed on the Israeli and Lebanese borders in preparation for the most extreme contingencies. The 10th armored corps was strung out from the main Syrian-Lebanese border pass up to a point facing Israel’s positions on the slopes of Mount Hermon. (Read details of this deployment in HOT POINTS of April 14).
In its April 10 edition, the Syrian al-Haqiqa magazine pulled no punches when it wrote:
“Their [Israel’s] biggest shock will be a confrontation with combatants in their own homes and inside their settlements and not in the South of Lebanon.
“Our wars until now were defensive. However, and in case there is a coming war, it will be an offensive one. I don’t mean we will wage the war, but any war they will carry out in the future will become what is called by the regular armies a counter-attack. They will see our combatants behind their lines and not just in front of them. The ground confrontations – and for the first time since 1948 – will be inside Palestine itself…”
Seeing which way the wind was blowing, Mubarak acted fast to save Egyptian forces’ from getting into battles with Hamas and to keep his country clear of a war involving Israel Hizballah. He invited the two key Hamas decision-makers in Gaza, Siyad Siam and Mahmoud a-Zahar, to Cairo for some horse-trading to cut Egypt out of the threatened war equation.
The Egyptian president’s invitation implied that he knew the price Hamas would exact, the lifting of his blockade of Gaza and opening the border to Palestinian traffic.
Three days later, the two Hamas officials were still in Cairo.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that as long as no deal is cut – with Assad’s approval – Hamas will continue to escalate its attacks against Israel.