Paris has prodded Lebanese leader Saad Hariri and prime minister Fouad Siniora into gearing up the national security forces to withstand the burst of violence expected to flare with the publication of the UN report on the Hariri assassination.
French intelligence is certain that as soon as the UN report compiled by the German investigator Detlev Mehlis is out, all hell will break loose in Lebanon. In the first place, they anticipate a wave of assassinations and terror to liquidate or intimidate the witnesses who can substantiate the guilt of high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese security officers in plotting last February’s assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources reveal that Paris and Washington quietly agreed on a division of labor – French intelligence would handle the Lebanese end of the crisis, while the Americans would deal with Damascus. US pressure on Bashar Assad has brought his regime into deep crisis.
The situation in Lebanon is seen as extremely volatile. Terrorists may attempt to ignite a new civil war. Sectarian allegiances would then take precedence over the demands of the investigation. The Hariri assassination’s plotters’ adherence to one warring camp or the other would make it impossible to hand them over to international justice – even the key high-ups already detained in Beirut on orders from the UN investigators.
To prevent this happening, France has sent the Lebanese government several millions of dollars to pay for recruiting another 1,000 secret agents to fend off terrorist attacks. The government is rounding up old hands from various Lebanese security services and militias whose long experience from the 1970s enables them to go to work at once without special training.
Purging the security agencies of Syrian agents
The Siniora government has also embarked on a purge of the security agencies of pro-Syrian officers and supporters of the pro-Damascus president Emil Lahoud.
This week, the Lebanese government finally swung all the way into emergency action.
Monday, Oct 3, thousands of Lebanese troops were dispatched to the border with Syria. They were instructed to hold at bay Syrian intelligence agents and terrorist teams standing by to cross into Lebanon upon publication of the UN Hariri report.
The next day, Oct 4, Lebanese ministers ended weeks of wrangling and agreed to Brig.-Gen Wafiq Jizzini taking over as Director of the interior ministry’s General Security Department. He replaced the pro-Syrian Maj.-Gen Jamil Sayyed, who is languishing in jail with three other generals for complicity in the Hariri murder.
A new chief of staff, Gen. Shawqi al-Masri was also nominated.
The two new commanders’ first order from prime minister Siniora was to place the army and security services on the highest level of preparedness.
The Hizballah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah countered by placing his terrorists on top alert and calling up reserves. Hizballah forces combined total between 15-17,000 men under arms. They will go into action on Syria’s behalf if instructed to do so from Tehran. This prospect was brought closer this week by the accusations US president George W. Bush and UK prime minister Tony Blair leveled against Iran, Syria and the Hizballah of taking part in terrorist attacks on US and UK forces in Iraq in contact with Sunni insurgents.
Wednesday, Oct. 5, Lebanese military units were deployed around Palestinian bases that were reinforced last month with an influx of Palestinian terrorist fighters from Damascus. On Sept. 28, debkafile revealed exclusively the covert movement five days earlier of those Palestinian battalions, with their commanders and weapons, across the border from Syria into Lebanon. Our counter-terror sources identified them as members of the radical Hamas, Popular Front, Democratic Front and the Abu Mussa breakaway faction from Fatah.
Assad’s Palestinian proxies stand ready in Lebanon
Some 1,200-1,500 of these terrorists were pulled out of the Palestinian refugee camps around Damascus and pushed into Lebanon in the most substantial military movement since Syrian forces were withdraw from the country.
They were split into two parts and directed to Qusaya just across the border in E. Lebanon and the PFLP-GC base at Naameh, south of Beirut. The Lebanese contingents sent meanwhile to the Syrian border have put a stop to further passage.
Earlier, Lebanese newspapers reported that the Palestinians had smuggled large quantities of weapons into Lebanon. Anwar Raja, the PFLP-GC spokesman tried to play down the reports by calling the weapons old and for use only “to fight the Zionist enemy.” This was taken to mean that they were destined for the Gaza Strip.
The commander of Fatah forces in Lebanon Sultan Abu Ainain was more cautious. He promised the smuggled arms would not be used against targets apart from the “Palestinian national struggle.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Lebanese sources assert that the Fatah leader spoke for only a part of his organization. He has lost authority over the Fatah factions allied to Hizballah who do not recognize Ainain’s boss, the Palestinian authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Their chief, the dissident Col. Mounir Makdah has indeed put his forces in south Lebanon on the ready and they will follow the Hizballah to spread terror in other parts of Lebanon if is called into action.
These fighting groups together with the Palestinian forces pumped into Lebanon from Syria represent between 4,000 and 5,000 Palestinian troops standing ready to stir up war at a command from Damascus. The Assad regime has not only mobilized Palestinian fighting forces to serve as Syria’s proxies in Lebanon, it has hijacked them and so further weakened Abbas’ grasp and credibility as national Palestinian leader.