DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s senior Israeli military sources declare Syria and the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah terrorist group have crossed every one of Israel’s red lines. It is only a matter of military and political timing before Israel launches simultaneous attacks against both to destroy their Lebanon-based missiles and chemical weapons. Those sources are also convinced Syria has acquired or developed an arsenal of biological weapons.
If Syria and the Hizballah open a second front against Israel during the American offensive against Iraq, the sources are certain prime minister Ariel Sharon will not consent to sit it out and wait for the Americans to finish their campaign in Iraq. He will opt for action to wipe out the strategic infrastructures of Syria, Lebanon and the Hizballah.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington, this prospect was a focal topic in Sharon’s White House meeting with President George W. Bush last week. Both agreed on military consultations should Israel be threatened by its northern neighbors while the American Iraq campaign was in progress.
Those sources also reveal that Bush gave Sharon the name of the US liaison officer who will stay in touch with the Israeli military for the duration of the Iraq war. He is vice admiral James Metzger, an assistant to the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. He now has a desk at the Pentagon, but will be relocated to Tel Aviv once the war gets underway.
Israeli and American sources declined comment when asked by DEBKA-Net-Weekly whether Metzger also would also act as liaison in the event of an Israel-Syrian conflict. However, our military sources say he will hold down that job as well.
Metzger is senior enough to represent Washington’s top defense officials, including defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers and his staff. He will be in close communication with Sharon, Israel’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, his deputy, Maj.Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, and Generals Giora Eiland and Dan Harel, respectively the commanders of the Israeli General Staff’s Planning and Operational Divisions.
At their White House talks, Sharon laid before Bush intelligence evidence that Syrian president Bashar Assad – not the Lebanese government or the Hizballah – had been the moving spirit behind the program to pump water from the Wazzani, a river that supplies 15 percent of Israel’s fresh water needs, diverting it to Lebanese villages that are not short of water sources.
Fearing that Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri would betray the Wazzani plan to Washington, Assad went behind his back and summoned Lebanese president Emile Lahoud to Damascus to work out the details of the river diversion scheme and provide him with the necessary funds and blueprints. Later, after Assad began to put the plan into motion, the Lebanese government and Hizballah jumped on the bandwagon.
Israeli and US intelligence have solid evidence of Assad’s decision to gradually empty the Wazzani and plug every last drop before it flow into Israel.
The Syrian president has also recently delivered to the Hizballah 300 Syrian-made 220 mm rockets. If only two score a direct hit on a small Israeli town with 20,000 inhabitants, like the northern Galilee town of Kiryat Shemona, half of its homes will be razed.
Nasralla – Future Lebanese Ruler?
But water is not the only reason why Israel intends to take on Syria; nor are the new rockets.
Sharon and Bush came to the same conclusion: the Syrian ruler has chosen the Hizballah leader, the fiery Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, as his most important ally in the Middle East and he proposes to anoint this arch-terrorist ruler of all Lebanon. Syria and Lebanon will unite under one leader, Bashar Assad. Nasrallah will make available to him the HIzballah’s worldwide intelligence and terror apparatus.
The Assad-Nasrallah alliance has turned the tables on Middle East experts who had different expectations from the young son of the hard-line Hafez Assad, whom he succeeded in the presidential palace in Damascus in June 2000. Bashar was widely viewed as a political novice who would need to be propped up by at least two of Syria’s three power brokers – the Baath Party, the Assad clan’s minority Alawite sect, and army and air force intelligence, which carries out overseas intelligence operations. However, by virtue of cautious and subtle maneuvers, Assad managed in two-and-a-half years to avoid over-dependence on these bodies and has instead moved young loyalists of his own into key positions.
Assad Jr. has displayed the same independent streak in building up his relations in the Arab world. During his first year in power, Middle East and intelligence experts forecast he would have to lean heavily on Saudi Arabia as well as on Iraq and Iran, to maintain his footing as president. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources note that, as recently as last fall, many intelligence evaluations of Syrian politics were based on this assumption. These reports, including those compiled by Israel and the United States, argued that Assad was trapped into supporting Hizballah or risk losing key backers in Tehran.
These assessments shifted in January and February. Al Qaeda fighters who fled Afghanistan after battles with the Americans began arriving in Damascus. Counter-terrorism officials in the United States and the Middle East received concrete evidence that Osama bin Laden and several top al Qaeda leaders had kept some of their families in the Syrian capital until 10 days to two weeks before the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, when they were moved to new locations. It become clear that Assad had not needed to be coerced into harboring terrorists or following Iranian or Saudi dictates; he did so willingly.
The same can be said of the Syrian ruler’s alliance with the Hizballah chief, Nasrallah. The two men are genuinely fast friends who talk the same language. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources say Hafez Assad saw Nasrallah only once in his 25 years as Syrian president; Bashar has met Nasrallah 25 times in the past 27 months. They now rendezvous almost every three weeks, sometimes secretly, to put their heads together on their next moves. Nasrallah acknowledges Assad as his superior. Their alliance gives the Syrian president the backbone he needs to preserve his independence of the Syrian factions that were the buttress of his father’s presidency and make it unnecessary for him to kowtow to certain Arab and Gulf figures who were erroneously labeled the keys to his survival.
The Hizballah chief also profits from the alliance to break free of Iranian patronage and strive for the role of authentic Lebanese national leader. Assad brings strategic depth and the firepower of Syria’s armed forces to the partnership; Nasrallah, the Hizballah’s far-reaching intelligence capability. This agency is one of the most sophisticated in the undercover worlds of intelligence and international terror, a dependable bulwark for the Syrian ruler’s personal safety and guarantee of his political future.
The emerging state of play in the old Levant presents the US president with yet another Middle East challenge. As he goes forth to take on Saddam Hussein and install a democratic or semi-democratic government in Baghdad, a new Shiite-dominated republic is being shaped out of Alawite Syria and Shiite Lebanon. The Alawi sect is closer to the Shiites than the Sunnis. Like Iraq, the federal nation’s strength will be grounded in its intelligence apparatus and aptitude for terrorist action
For Israel, it means that a US war on Iraq will not eradicate the danger it faces from weapons of mass destruction, but bring the threat closer to its borders.