Syria Meddles in Next Stage of Hizballah-Israel Trade
Syrian president Bashar Assad’s advisers tried hitching a ride on the second stage of the Hizballah-Israeli prisoner swap – the one requiring the handover of information on the long missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad. Assad’s men went to work on Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharazi when he came to Beirut last week to make sure the exchange focused on an even older mystery, the disappearance of four Iranian diplomats in Lebanon 22 years ago. Tehran insists they are alive in Israeli captivity and demands a tit for tat, notwithstanding all the evidence that the Christian Phalange security chief Elie Hobeika seized them at a highway checkpoint in northern Lebanon as they were fleeing the 1982 war to Syria, and murdered them.
Kharazi announced before he left Beirut: “President Lahoud has assured me that Mr. Geagea will be formally asked to give any information he possesses about the affair.”
The Iranian foreign minister also promised Iran would do its best to help determine the fate of Arad although “no one knows where Arad is and in which country he is.” That information would unlock the Israeli prison door holding the 1979 Nahariya murderer Samir Kuntar.
How does Samir Geagea, Hobeika’s rival and successor as security chief of the Christian forces, suddenly come into the picture?
debkafile‘s sources report that Damascus wants to use him to back up the Iranian charge against Israel in the hope of releasing all the interlocking doors to the final stage of the Hizballah-Israeli prisoner exchange.
Geagea has been locked up in a Lebanese jail since 1989 on orders from Syria. Behind the Iranian minister’s diplomatic speak, debkafile sources reports negotiations were taking place on a straight behind-the-scenes deal. Represented by his extremely attractive wife, Esterida, Geagea was offered his freedom provided he came forward and confessed falsely before the world media that it was he – not Hobeika – who captured the four diplomats and that he handed them over alive to Israel.
The deal was to have gone through before the Iranian minister left Beirut. However, the imprisoned Lebanese Christian leader, though sorely tempted by the offer of freedom after 15 yeas in far from gentle custody, was of two minds. He was not sure how far he can trust the Syrians and Lebanese to keep their side of the bargain and also fears rousing Israeli anger over a patent lie.
To clinch the deal, Syrian officials proposed that Kharazi visit Geagea in jail with a personal pledge of Iranian and Hizballah protection if he goes through with his “confession” that the four diplomats reached Israeli hands in 1982. The minister got on the phone to his principals in Tehran and came back with the reply that there was no way he could possibly call on a Christian figure in a Lebanese prison. It was up to the Syrians to get results, he said and flew home.