Shortly after DEBKA-Net-Weekly 368 of Oct. 17, exposed the Syrian military noose around Lebanon’s borders (Washington Okays Syrian Troop Buildup on Lebanese Borders), the Saudi government asked the US government for clarifications. They wanted to know how far Washington was involved in the Syrian step and why it had not been prevented.
The State Department came back with assurances that Washington’s attitude toward Damascus had not changed. The Saudis found this evasive. And indeed, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report, Syria went right on massing troops on Lebanese borders until on Tuesday, Oct. 21, the military encirclement of its small neighbor was complete.
Lebanon is now beleaguered from the north and the east by four Syrian divisions.
As we demonstrated in a special map (http://debka-net-weekly.com/pics/LebanonSyriaForces.jpg) in the last issue of DEBKA-Net-Weekly, the Syrian 4th Division is ranged along Lebanon’s northern border and the 10th, 12th and 14th are deployed on Lebanon’s eastern frontier opposite the Hermil mountains, the Beqaa Valley and down to the Hermon Mountains facing South Lebanon and northern Israel.
Neither the Americans nor the Israelis had expected Damascus to move so fast.
Because the rainy season is about to start in the Middle East, it was taken for granted that Damascus would delay the completion of its deployment until the spring in 2009. However, president Bashar Assad saw two advantages in going ahead before the US presidential election on November 4:
First, Israel would be unlikely to strike out in the days leading up to the US election and, second, Damascus would be able to present the new man in the White House with a fait accompli.
Tehran may run Aoun for the presidency in six months
Interestingly, neither Iran nor its Lebanese pawn, the Hizballah, reacted or referred to the Syrian troop concentration – not directly, at all events. But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Beirut sources found one unusual event worth noting: the two-day visit to Tehran (Oct. 13-14) of the Lebanese leader, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Michel Aoun, in response to a formal Iranian invitation.
Aoun was the first Middle East Christian leader ever to be so honored by the Islamic republic.
Before the 2006 Lebanon war dealt a setback to Western influence by ending without a Hizballah defeat, it would have been unthinkable for any Middle East Christian notable to be made welcome in Tehran. Now, hyper-sensitive antennae in Beirut’s elite circles in Beirut assess the visit as a subtle Iranian move to strengthen its strategic leverage in Beirut.
Our Beirut sources maintain that Tehran accepted Aoun because, embittered by being passed over for the presidency by Washington, this once pro-Western Christian leader switched his loyalty to Hizballah and Syria, never gave up his aspirations to the presidency and was open to sponsorship.
But neither has Aoun given up his long reckoning with the United States.
On returning to Beirut from his landmark visit, Michel Aoun said its outcome would emerge in six months. He confided to his intimates the powerful motives which led him to seek out Iran as a possible sponsor, as first revealed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Beirut sources:
US indicted for abandoning Middle East Christians
The crux was an indictment of the United States which he accused of systematically betraying the Christians of the Middle East for 30 years. According to the Lebanese Christian leader –
1. America has abandoned the Christians of Lebanon who once dominated the country, while in Iraq, the US war put a million Christians to flight. Most belonged to the ancient Assyrian community; some found refuge with their coreligionists in Syria.
2. US adoption of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for signing the 1993 Oslo peace framework accord with Israel left Palestinian Christians unprotected against the Islamic terror which he fostered. The result has been the West Bank’s virtual depopulation of Christians. The Christian homes of Bethlehem are now occupied by Muslims. Not a single Western finger was raised when Fatah gangs persecuted them and drove them out.
3. US backing for the Mubarak regime left the indigenous Christian Copts of Egypt prey to Muslim extremist depredations.
The Lebanese Christian leader stressed that the ill fortunes of Middle East Christian communities, most of which predate Islam, did not begin with the Bush administration but its predecessors going back three decades. However, since Washington adopted Sunni Muslim regimes and factions as US allies, the Christians were left with no resort but to seek protection from Shiite elements, chiefly Iran.
Aoun rejects a US role in Lebanon
Talking to reporters, Aoun described Iran fulsomely as “the biggest regional power from Lebanon to China.” What he saw there, he said was “contrary to what had been said about this regime and country.”
As for the United States, the Lebanese leader stressed that they “would never equip the Lebanese army with weapons to confront a foreign army, only for law enforcement.”
And “The US would always be on Israel’s side and not on our side in settling the issue of naturalizing Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.”
His final flourish was revealing: The conflict is “no more with the Lebanese Forces. The game is bigger than them”
Clearly, Hizballah’s Christian ally came away from his Iranian visit with high hopes for his future, provided he was patient for six months.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Beirut sources, far from standing aside, the rulers of Tehran plan to counter the Syrian military gambit by planting their own man in Lebanon’s presidential palace in Beirut when the time is ripe.
The loyalties of the incumbent, Gen. Michel Suleiman, are too ambivalent for Iran.