Bashar Assad has inexplicably responded to the partial boycott of the Arab League “summit” taking place in Damascus Friday and Saturday, March 29-30, by lining up army units on Syria’s borders with Iraq, Lebanon and Israel, as well as pushing contingents across the border into Lebanon proper.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that a group of Syrian armored divisions has been posted along the Beirut-Damascus highway at Zabadani, under the command of the president’s younger brother, Maher Assad, commander of the presidential guard.
Last Monday, debkafile‘s military sources (see HOT POINTS below) revealed that the bulk of Palestinian terrorist forces under Syrian and Iranian command had been shifted out of the Damascus area and sent into Lebanon too, taking up battle positions in the Beqaa Valley.
Another 10,000 Syrian troops have been positioned at Kurdish centers along the Iraqi border following last week’s riots in Qamishli on the Kurdish New Year, in which several Kurds were killed.
Syrian forward positions on the Israeli border have also been beefed up.
Finally, military patrols have been posted in all of Syria’s main cities kitted out for subduing riots.
This rush of military activity appears to denote the Assad regime’s extreme nervousness as it prepares to host reluctant Arab governments, most of whom prefer to send junior officials rather than top men.
It also demonstrates that three years after being thrown out of Lebanon, Syrian forces are still going strong in the country, in the face of Security Council resolutions, the efforts of the United States and France and the extreme displeasure of Arab rulers, led by Saudi Arabia.
It is the main reason why the Damascus conference will be attended by the smallest number of Arab rulers in Arab League summit history. The Saudi and Jordanian Kings Abdullah as well as well as Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak were also deterred by the prospect of Assad hosting with full honors the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
As we write these lines, the only top men whose presence in Damascus is assured are Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi and President Abdallah Salah of Yemen.
Even Tehran is only sending its foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Lebanon is boycotting the event to punish Damascus for forcing the country to live without a president for five months.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza will on hand in the Middle East during the conference, mainly to make sure that Mahmoud Abbas at the head of the Palestinian delegation does not stray from Washington’s side on peace talks with Israel.