Three Palestinian terrorist chiefs were making their way to Damascus on Tuesday, July 1 as Ariel Sharon and Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas were shaking hands in Jerusalem and pledging to push the Middle East peace process ahead together.
Hamas leaders Khaled Mashal and Musa Abu Marzuk sat in the first class section of the plane that took off for the Syrian capital from the Gulf state of Qatar. Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, head of the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, traveled in an armored limousine from Beirut, escorted by two civilian jeeps carrying Lebanon-based Syrian intelligence officers.
A day later, as US President George W. Bush in Washington called again for terrorist organizations like Hamas to be dismantled, the three hard men were back in their comfortable Damascus headquarters.
Those headquarters were re-opened and reoccupied this week, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources report, notwithstanding the Syrian president’s assurances to Washington in late April 2003 that the terrorists’ command centers had been shut down and their leaders sent out of Damascus.
The fact of the matter is that not a single command center had stopped operating. For a short time, the top terrorists traveled outside Damascus now and again, often giving their media interviews from Lebanon or Qatar. However, this week, even that pretence was abandoned when President Bashar Assad personally requested their return to their old operational headquarters in the Syrian capital. He needed them close at hand to execute his latest plan of action.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources reveal that the Syrian leader asked Hamas and Islamic Jihad to send their operations officers over to Syrian military intelligence headquarters to work with his liaison officers on the drafting of “urgent” operational plans for smuggling terrorist infiltrators into the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel.
Their mission: To carry out multi-casualty terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad operations officers were told that the Hizballah would carry out a similar offensive concurrently from Lebanon. The Syrian president is motivated by the theory that the operational interaction of terrorist squads from Lebanon and Syria with Yasser Arafat’s Tanzim and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades squads in the main cities of the West Bank will cause a convulsion violent enough to torpedo the Bush’s peace plan and bring Abbas’ reformist government crashing down.
This is one part of the elaborate anti-American course the Syrian ruler has chosen.
After consulting with his inner circle of advisers and confidants, Assad decided to step up the pace of guerrilla attacks for sabotaging the Iraq-Turkish oil pipeline from northern Iraq to the Mediterranean, the main vehicle for exporting Iraqi oil. On Wednesday, July 2, Bush was heard to remark for the first time, “We’re also beginning to see foreign fighters enter Iraq.”
Since fighters can only infiltrate Iraq from Iran and Syria, and Tehran is at present confining itself to smuggling agents, the US president must have been alluding to Syria.
Syria has also sharpened the acerbity of its propaganda reviling the American military presence in Iraq and Washington’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has left Syria in the cold.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources count more anti-American Syrian actions as they come to light.
A. Interrogations of Iraqis and Syrians caught on the Iraqi-Syrian frontier have yielded evidence that East Syrian towns are transit points for Saddam Hussein’s top officials who come and go at will. Syrian banks are furthermore the main conduit for the movement of hundreds of millions of dollars from the old regime for use in a wide range of activities, including military operations against American forces. The Syrians are charging an arm and a leg for every individual Iraqi or group crossing the border – a sort of transit tax. The money helps compensate Syria for revenue lost when the United States shut down the Iraqi-Syrian oil pipeline.
B. Syrian channels of communications serve to keep Saddam and his sons abreast of developments in Iraq whenever they are out of the country and the outside world when they are back home.
C. From messages and documents such as travel papers, birth certificates and passports – all carrying official stamps but with identification details left blank – found on captured couriers, the role of the Belarus embassy in Damascus has come into sharper focus. It has become a sort of intelligence-logistical center catering to all the needs of Saddam, his sons and top Iraqis.
D. Some 50 to 100 senior Iraqis are currently in Syria.
E. Just as Syria is a byway station for Saddam’s clique, Damascus international airport is a useful way station for Al Qaeda commanders moving around the Middle East and Gulf.
Damascus has not only become the mainline hub of anti-American opposition forces in the region, Syria is constantly raising the stakes of its campaign against Washington. This begs the question of why Washington is not fighting back. The answer may be connected with its plans for Lebanon, as disclosed in the next article.