Syrian Army Quits Lebanon – But Stays Under Cover

After 27 years in Lebanon, the Syrian army is completing its evacuation of the country, including even the strategic Beirut-Damascus highway. Syrian troops will retire to a small pocket of the eastern Beqaa Valley abutting the Syrian frontier, where DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Beirut sources report two armored brigades will be stationed to guard the routes from Lebanon to the Syrian capital. The rest of the Syrian Lebanese garrison will be stationed on the Syrian side of the border.

President Bashar Assad and his administration are not eager to pull their forces out of Lebanon, but have decided that it is the cheapest way to appease the Americans. They have discovered an American-Saudi plan to transform Lebanon from a country torn by civil strife and dominated by armed militias, including the Hizballah, into a state with an orderly central government and armed forces, fit to regain its old pre-1975 civil war position as financial and banking center of the Middle East.

This transformation could not have worked with Lebanon under the thumb of the Syrians and the Hizballah, an organization branded by Washington as terrorist and associate of al Qaeda. Therefore, Assad believes the Bush administration ought to be grateful enough for Syria’s accommodation to forgive all the other vexations he poses, like sponsorship of Palestinian terrorist organizations and meddling in Iraq.

Although the Syrian ruler stands little chance of getting off that lightly, he might have gained some points from his army’s exit from Lebanon if it were genuine and final. However, according to our sources, Damascus is making sure to keep Lebanon as its intelligence hunting ground. To this end, General Rustum Ghazaleh, head of Syria’s intelligence station in Lebanon, has created a joint Syrian-Lebanese network with the Lebanese internal security chief, Gamal al Sayed. These two undercover powerhouses have been entrusted with keeping Syria’s grip on Lebanon as strong as ever and limiting the US-Saudi hold on Beirut.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and counter-terror sources have discovered Syria’s military movements matched by the Hizballah, which has begun rolling up its positions and removing many of its lookout posts along the Israeli frontier. Commanders of the Shiite group have forbidden approaches to the border fence or provocations against Israeli targets. But like the Syrians, the Hizballah is only changing its tactics, not its goals or ways. Its general secretary, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, is now immersed in a struggle for control of the smuggling routes of drugs, arms and money inside Lebanon and across the Middle East and Persian Gulf. He looks like achieving his objective in the short term thanks to the powerful and far-flung intelligence network the terrorist organization maintains in the region, in North and South America, Europe and Western and Eastern Africa.

Hizballah chiefs and their Iranian and Syrian sponsors have not for one moment lost sight of their immediate objective, which is to pump fighting strength, explosives and cash into Palestinian areas in the West bank and Gaza Strip, as well as sleeper cells into Israeli Arab communities. The upshot of the changes in the former Levant is that the brunt of Palestinian terror based in Damascus as well as the Hizballah threat are in the process of relocation. They will now menace Israel at point-blank range from Palestinian territory. Thus far, Washington has not responded.

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