debkafile Exclusive: S. Lebanon’s largest town, Sidon, is taken over as Russian-Syrian spy base and Hizballah stronghold

The two Russian Chechen GRU platoons, Vostok and Zapad, revealed by debkafile Oct. 6 as being deployed in S. Lebanon, are setting up their headquarters and surveillance posts in the Lebanese port of Sidon and giving Syrian intelligence a window on their input. Syria is drumming up local support in the strategic port-town, the largest in S. Lebanon, by pumping weapons to local branches of the two Shiite groups, Hizballah and Amal, and the two pro-Syrian clans which dominate the town.
(This was first revealed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 272 of Oct. 6.)
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The carve-up of South Lebanon since Israeli troops pulled out is unfolding as follows: The UN force mandated by UN Security Council resolution 1701 is centered in the Tyre region, whereas Hizballah, Syria’s supporters and the Russian intelligence platoons have taken control of Sidon further up the Mediterranean coast. The three elements are ideally positioned for Hizballah to control the south Lebanese coastal region and for the Russians and Syrians to keep track of the military movements of the Israeli army, UNIFIL and the European naval units off the Lebanese shore.
Senior Israeli officers told debkafile that the takeover of parts of Sidon by Hizballah and Syrian intelligence – plus a Russian intelligence presence – places the security of northern Israel in extreme danger.
After lagging behind Hizballah for years, Amal, the Shiite movement headed by the Lebanese parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, is now being rewarded for backing Hizballah in the war with new weapons and training by Syrian and Iranian instructors in civilian dress. Arms are also being lavished on the powerful and wealthy South Lebanese Bizeri and Saad clans which oppose the anti-Syrian Saad Hariri, whose father Rafiq Hariri was murdered in February 2005.
Hizballah’s domination of Sidon, backed up by Russian and Syrian intelligence, is a blow which virtually wipes out any advantages Israel gained from the Lebanon war. It transforms UNIFIL and the Lebanese army into a buffer that sterilizes the Syrian-Russian effort to rebuild Hizballah’s military strength and intelligence capabilities.
What is most astonishing is the Israeli government and army’s passivity in the face of this gathering security deterioration which adds up to several blatant violations of the letter and spirit of Resolution 1701.
(See debkafile‘s first disclosure of the Russian Chechen deployment in Lebanon in an earlier report on this page.)

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