Chavez Sets up House in Damascus, Wins License to Acquire Syrian and Iranian WMD

By inaugurating the Venezuelan state airline Conviasa’s new route to Iran via Syria on Oct. 7, Hugo Chavez also publicly launched his Middle East offensive against the United States.

Damascus reciprocated Thursday, Oct. 11, by starting up Spanish language television broadcasts beamed to Venezuela.

The new airline route is officially described as aiming to strengthen commercial relations between the three countries. The Airbus 330-200 landed at 13:15 local time with an official Venezuelan delegation on board.

In March, Iran’s national carrier established a regular route to Venezuela – also through Damascus. Its aim, according to a Syrian official, was to spare Muslim travelers “the harassment” they allegedly suffer in “the post-Sept.11 world.”

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources disclose that the new Conviasa air route became necessary to meet the mounting need for safe, discreet and speedy communications with Caracas developing in Venezuela’s busy new secret intelligence-financial station in Damascus.

Regular flights are now available for the growing number of Iranian and Syrian officers and agents commuting between Tehran, Damascus and Caracas.

They also serve the community of Russian and North Korean intelligence and businessmen involved in the complex weapons and funding cross-transactions unfolding between Caracas, Moscow, Pyongyang, Tehran and Damascus.

US intelligence has uncovered Venezuelan-Syrian dealings running on two tracks:

One is official between the Venezuelan embassy in Damascus and Syrian government and military officials; the undercover track is managed by the clandestine command center which Venezuelan intelligence has set up in the Syrian capital.


Chavez forks out for Syrian and Iranian arms purchases from North Korea and Russia


To preserve their cover, the Venezuelan agents operating from the second track talk to no one in Syria but President Bashar Assad and the head of military intelligence, Gen. Asaf Shawqat. Business with the secret Venezuelan center goes through their bureaux.

Syrian government ministers and officers of the high command are in the dark about the secret Venezuelan presence in their capital, including even foreign minister Walid Mualem and defense minister Hassan Turkmani.

Word of this development trickled into Washington only in mid-August. Partial data were contained in the intelligence folder covering Syria’s nuclear activity in conjunction with North Korea, which Israel forwarded to Washington. They came in the form of transactions the two governments contracted in sterling or euros (as we reported), which were traced to Venezuelan banks.

US intelligence delved further into this information and found that North Korea was not the only supplier involved in these deals, but Russia as well.

Damascus’ purchase of 50 Pantsyr-SE1 air and missile defense batteries from Moscow, of which 10 went to Tehran, turned out to have been entirely bankrolled by Caracas. Venezuelan banks have so far transferred to Moscow banks the amount of 450 million pounds sterling (around $900 million).

US investigators also found that Hugo Chavez had agreed to foot the $3 billion bill for further arms deals between Russia, North Korea, Iran and Syria.

The Venezuelan president’s generosity to his partners does not stem merely from fellow antipathy for the United States. He has inserted a clause in a secret accord signed by Assad during his visit to Caracas in July 2006, and in the series of contracts which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad concluded up to and including the document he signed last month (during his stopover in Venezuela after his New York appearances).

This clause provides for both Syria and Iran to divert the weapons purchased with Chavez’s funding to Caracas without delay should they be required for Venezuela’s defense.


Bush woos Assad to cut out link with Chavez


This clause is causing extreme disquiet in Washington, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report. It means that the Venezuelan-funded arms deals Iran and Syria have concluded with North Korea permit the radioactive or “dirty bomb” missile warheads of the types bombed in September to find their way to Latin America.

This also goes for the Syrian and Iranian chemical and biological warheads included in the contracts.

Chavez can gain easy and fast access to weapons of mass destruction with a single phone call. The feeling in Washington is that the direct Caracas-Damascus-Tehran airline route is designed not only for passenger traffic but, in a crisis, for weapons of mass destruction to be carried directly from the Middle East to Venezuela at top speed.

The perturbation in Washington from these discoveries is such that the White House is burning rubber in its effort to talk terms with the Syrian ruler.

The administration is convinced that, unlike the savvy clerical rulers in Tehran, Assad may not have fully grasped the implications of the accords he signed with Chavez; neither, US officials think, does he appreciate how Washington will react if Venezuela’s state airline is discovered to be transporting WMD from Damascus to Caracas.

US officials believe that once all this is made plain to the Syrian president, he will take fright and pull out of his accords with Venezuela. Whether or not this assumption is naive remains to be seen.

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