The first intimation of a possible breach in the strong Syrian alliance with Iran and its surrogate Hizballah reached Washington from an unexpected source. Dr Riyadh Daud, legal adviser at the foreign ministry in Damascus and member of the team holding indirect talks with Israel in Istanbul remarked to his Israeli colleagues:
“If you want to understand what is going on around you, take a look at Tripoli, in northern Lebanon.”
Dr. Daud was pointing at the month-long battles in progress in Tripoli between two districts, the Alawites of Baal Moshen and the Sunni Muslims of Bab Tabbaneh.
Thursday, July 10, by which time the two sides were shooting mortars, RPGs and heavy machine guns, the Lebanese Army finally dispatched troops to pacify the two suburbs.
The Syrian official asked the Israelis to take note of the fact that for weeks Hizballah had been trying to plant a Shiite force in the Allawite district to battle the Sunnis, who were supported by the Fouad Siniora government. But Syrian officers, disguised in civilian clothes, ordered the Allawites they were leading in battle to throw Hizballah out.
The message Dr. Riyadh was trying to get across was that Damascus would not put up with Iranian influence spreading out of Beirut to northern Lebanon.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that a similar pattern appeared to recur in another part of the country, when Hizballah sent militiamen to seize control of one of the peaks of the 7,800 foot high Jabal Sannine mountain ridge in central Lebanon. Local Christian villagers claim to have driven them away, but some Western intelligence sources have some questions about this.
Building new premises for Palestinian HQ in Beirut
Mt. Sannine, which dominates the roads connecting Beirut and Damascus, is one of the most prized strategic assets in the region. It was fought over for years by Syria and Israel, both seeking to control this ideal vantage point for an early warning station to command the eastern Mediterranean, the northern half of Israel and the Damascus region.
Our sources point to another event which may hold even greater significance for those who believe Syrian president Bashar Assad is ready for a major reorientation of his alliances.
A building firm belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which performs most of the construction work for Hizballah in Lebanon, has begun refurbishing two buildings in Beirut’s Shiite Dahiya district to house the headquarters of the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami terrorist organizations now located in Damascus. One of the buildings is planned for the two organizations’ operational commands and offices; the second is being fixed up as spacious apartments for their leaders.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources report that the impression this project conveys is that the Assad regime is finally succumbing to Western demands to end its sponsorship of the most radical Palestinian groups for the sake of building fences with the West and Israel.
Those sources warn, however, that Assad has proved to be one of the most slippery politicians of his day. He never tires of gambits that will give him a foot in two worlds and is perfectly capable of moves to appease the West, while secretly maintaining his close ties with Tehran and terrorists.