Syrian troops were fanned out Sunday, April 17, along the country's borders with Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to choke off the smuggled arms, funds and foreign agents streaming in recent weeks to the aid of the opposition whose uprising has spread to every corner of the country. Independence Day Sunday was marked by a display by the authorities of a collection of automatic weapons allegedly smuggled through Iraq, as well as processions calling for the president's removal. In Homs, security forces shot dead four protesters and injured more than fifty. Some demonstrators wore shrouds proclaiming: Death is better than shame!
Large sections of the Syrian economy have ground to a halt, debkafile's sources report, because 2,500 supply trucks are backed up on the Lebanese border and 3,000 trucks on the Jordanian and Iraqi frontiers for meticulous, time-consuming searches. The Syrian authorities suspect Saudi Arabia of smuggling weapons to the opposition through Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, having commandeered the infamous Middle East smuggling ring of which the Assad regime was an organizer and key link – and which has now turned around to bite its master.
The searches of convoys have caused the Syrian economy critical damage: Imported foodstuffs and raw materials are withheld from stores and factories and exports are almost at a standstill.
Syria's political, business, military and intelligence elites, including the Assad family, amassed personal fortunes by creating and running those networks, whose pathways run from Sudan in the south through Sinai and Jordan up to Iraq in the east and Syria in the northwest.
debkafile's military sources report that the Syrian regime was also its best customer, using the network to transfer contraband weapons to the Lebanese Hizballah, Palestinian extremists such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and allied groups on the West Bank, and Sunni terrorists, including al Qaeda, in Iraq.
Assad and his security chiefs have now decided that Damascus' role as the smuggling hub of the Levant threatens their hold on power because Saudi Arabia has begun using three network branches for spiriting arms and financial aid to the Syrian opposition:.
1. Jordan: Syrian intelligence suspects Riyadh of establishing a headquarters in Amman headed by Prince Bandar bin Sultan Secretary-General of the Saudi National Security Council for aiding and arming the uprising.
The town of Daraa, which leads the protest movement in southern Syria, lies athwart the only overland route linking Syria to Jordan. It is 100 kilometers from Damascus and 88 from Amman. More than 1,500 supply trucks, some from Saudi Arabia, are awaiting Syrian security checks before they can drive through.
Syrian tanks and undercover forces also lie in wait for suspect traffic along the Yarmouk River which flows into Jordan.
2. Iraq: Assad suspects the Saudis of pushing into Syria arms, money and provocateurs for stirring up riots with the help of the Sunni militias of the western Iraqi province of Al-Anbar. These locals are familiar with the paths to the Syrian border hidden by the dense wooded vegetation of the Euphrates and Tigris riverbanks between Husaiba in Iraq and Abu Kamal in Syria. The latter is the center of the Shammar tribe whose lands spill over into Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Since the Syrian army closed the only regular border with Iraq at Rabiyaa-Tall Kujik, another 1,500 trucks are piled up awaiting permission to pass through.
3. Lebanon: Syria has clamped its most stringent security measures on its border with Lebanon, especially the goods terminal on the Abboudiyeh border. Damascus accuses Lebanese lawmaker Jamal al-Jarrah, a member of the Mustaqbal Movement headed by Saad Hariri, the Sunni prime minister ousted by Hizballah, of running the Saudi arms and funds route for sustaining the Syrian uprising.