Syria’s most implacable foes in Lebanon were furnished this week with an urgent supply of weapons from an unusual source.
Scenting a new civil war in the air, Saudi Arabia shipped arms by air and ground routes to the Lebanese national army, as well as to three allied militias, without whom the pro-Western government of Fouad Siniora has little chance of survival.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources reveal the end-users as being the Maronite Christian Phalange headed by Samir Geagea, the majority leader Saad Hariri’s private Sunni army and the Druze militia of Walid Jumblatt.
These forces are steeled for pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian opposition forces, led by the Shiite Hizballah, to launch into violence to break the political impasse in Beirut over the election of a president.
To punish the Assad regime for stirring up trouble in Lebanon, the US Treasury Department ‘s Office of Foreign Assets Control has reached high into Bashar Assad‘s inner circle and placed his kinsman Rami Makhlouf on its sanctions list.
This was a shrewdly aimed move. Makhlouf is one Syria’s richest men and the godfather of its national economy.
At home, the Assad regime is in trouble.
This week, several score officers serving in the air force, intelligence and armored brigades were secretly arrested, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources disclose, after the heads of intelligence laid before the president proofs that they were in mid-preparation to overthrow him.
The conspiracy’s brains were named as two of the opposition leaders in exile, former vice president Khalim Haddam, who lives in Brussels, and the president’s tycoon uncle, Rifat Assad.
Hearing that his two enemies were royally hosted in Riyadh, the president concluded that the Saudi royal house had aided the conspirators with support, money and intelligence aid.
Damascus accuses Saudi Prince Muqrin of masterminding Mughniyeh hit
This alleged conspiracy marked another stage in the flaming dispute between Saudi King Abdullah and President Assad, and their respective political and military establishments.
It was not the first. After the death of Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus on Feb. 12, Syrian officials threw out hints alleging Saudi intelligence complicity in the planning and execution of his murder. They suggested the purported Israeli Mossad assassins could not have made their hit in the Syrian capital without Saudi confederates.
This week, Syrian intelligence officers, in briefings to local elite politicians and business leaders, said they had proof that the director of Saudi General Intelligence Prince Muqrin had personally run those confederates.
By then, Damascus had embellished its allegations with detail. This Syrian version now goes like this, according to our sources:
Saudi and Jordanian spies picked up Mughniyeh’s trail in Lebanon, followed him from Beirut to the point where he crossed over from Lebanon to Syria and trailed him as far as Damascus.
These agents then filed the information to Riyadh, whereupon Prince Muqrin passed it on to US intelligence in Washington knowing it would be bounced to the Mossad.
Damascus contends that the Mughniyeh killing was the work of a joint US-Saudi-Israeli intelligence operation. Without Saudi collaboration, the Mossad could never have pulled it off.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources report that when the Syrian allegations were brought to the attention of King Abdullah at the beginning of the week, he ordered all Saudi-Syrian contacts and communications cut off forthwith.
As one Gulf source put it: Abdullah there and then wiped Syria off the map of Arab nations worthy of his recognition.
Assad plans to parody Abdullah at Arab summit
The crisis caught Syrian foreign minister Walid Mualem making the rounds of Middle East and North African capitals, handing out official invitations to the Arab League summit scheduled for the end of March in Damascus.
A sharp note reached him on his travels informing him he had better not try and land in Riyadh.
Abdullah is enraged with Assad on more than one score.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report that he hit the ceiling when Prince Moqrin told him about the surprise – or rather bad shock – the Syrian president was preparing for the forthcoming summit.
According to our sources, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to be spirited into the presidential palace in Damascus shortly before the summit opens. He will then be produced with a big flourish at the opening. Assad proposes to walk in hand in hand with his surprise guest.
The Saudis can hardly object; the spectacle would be a parody of King Abdullah’s own much photographed and loudly applauded entrance to the GCC summit in Doha, Qatar, on Dec. 4, 2007, hand in hand with the Iranian president.
Assad is scheming not on to ridicule Abdullah’s gesture, but to make one of his own: He believes it will seal the reconciliation between Iran and the Arab governments and mark the failure of American Middle East strategies.
The Syrian president means to force the Arab rulers present in Damascus to acknowledge not only Iran’s strategic eminence in the region, but also that of its partner, Syria.
But before Assad achieves his ambition, a number of powder kegs threaten to blow up in the region, notably in Lebanon.