The quarrel between Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian president Bashar Assad has gone way beyond harsh words.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources report the Saudi monarch this week invited two fellow Arab rulers to Riyadh to confer urgently on the crisis – Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 24 and Jordan’s Abdullah on Feb. 27.
Together they arrived at four decisions:
1. To boycott the Arab League summit convening in Damascus at the end of March.
2. If Assad insists on the summit taking place in his capital regardless, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan will stage a rival conference in the Egyptian Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, on the assumption that it will draw most of the 27 Arab League rulers away from Damascus. That is of course unless interim steps can succeed in cooling animosities, which is unlikely, some other formula can be devised to preserve the semblance of Arab unity, or Assad can come up with a face-saving stunt.
3. Riyadh will stick to its guns on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. On Lebanon, King Abdullah demands that parliament, after 15 postponements, finally elect Lebanese chief of staff Gen. Michel Suleiman president and that the national unity government headed by the anti-Syrian prime minister Fouad Siniora, or another Lebanese figure who is not sponsored by Syria, stays in power.
Lebanon has been without a president since November because of Syria’s veto of any candidates which the Assad regime cannot control.
Regarding the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas after it kicked out the Palestinian Authority headed by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, Abdullah is still determined to patch up the quarrel between the two Palestinian factions and establish a national unity government, like in Lebanon. The two unity governments together, the Saudi ruler holds, will form a rampart to retard the spreading and deepening encroachment of the Iranian-Syrian axis on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean.
Jordan leads intelligence war against Syria
4. Damascus has accused Saudi Arabia’s general intelligence director Prince Moqrin bin Abdulaziz of collusion in the Imad Mughniyeh killing in Damascus earlier this month. Syrian officials claim his tip-off to US and Israel intelligence was behind the plot.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 338 of Feb. 22, 2008).
The Syrian inquiry into the affair failed to publish its findings last week as promised. But the Saudis are not holding their breath for the expected denunciations, and have set out to expose Syria’s intelligence networks across the Middle East and demonstrate how closely they are interwoven with the most harmful terrorist organizations.
And indeed, hours after his neighbor, Jordan’s king Abdullah returned home from Riyadh, his security forces arrested five senior Hamas operatives. They were formally charged with spying for the Hamas leadership based in “a neighboring country,” which the Jordanian authorities were careful not to name.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources name the five as Sabat Abdullah, Salim Salim, Azzam Jabar, Mohammed Hujja and Talab Abdullah, all residents of Palestinian refugee camps around Amman
From 2006, they took several courses at Syrian military intelligence installations in the use of weapons and explosives and espionage techniques. The missions assigned them by their controllers in Damascus were: to follow and photograph all Jordanian military structures along its borders with Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iraq; to keep tabs on Israeli embassy staff in Amman, their activities in the building and security measures outside.
Damascus recruits Jordanian Hamas spies
They were to go to Aqaba on the Red Sea, Jordan’s only port, which serves as one of the key ports of entry for the shipment of supplies, including ordnance, for US forces stationed in Iraq, and photograph the military and port installations and the unloading of American war ships, tankers and freighters.
Another of the Hamas spy ring’s tasks was to keep watch on the Amman offices and staff of an American company called “Seatown.”
Our intelligence sources further report that towards the end of 2007, the Palestinian spies were told to recruit agents to post as lookouts for surveillance of the military elements operating on Jordan’s borders with Iraq and Syria. These lookouts were posted on the Umm Qayes ridge which overlooks the meeting-point of the Jordanian, Syrian and Israel borders. They could also view the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s only major source of water.
All the material the five spies accumulated was reported to Syrian military intelligence by means of disguised e-mail messages and messengers.
When they were arrested this week, they were found in possession of side-arms and cash.
Jordanian investigators discovered that the Palestinian Hamas network had become important enough to the Assad regime for its members to be ordered to stop taking the risk of traveling to Damascus. They were to await the arrival of special Syrian intelligence officers in Amman for briefing, instructions and cash for their operating fund.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report that Jordan’s King is sticking his neck far out by placing himself in the lead of the Saudi-Syrian clandestine showdown.
And by arresting senior Palestinian Hamas figures as foreign spies, he risks big trouble from the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in the kingdom, many of whom are loyal to Hamas and its parent, the Muslim Brotherhood.