Saudi Intelligence chief Prince Bandar Bin Sultan had a large, clandestine finger in the Lebanese pie. His removal will therefore not only affect the Syrian war arena, but also the balance of power in Beirut.
Wednesday, Feb. 19, twin suicide bombers blew themselves up at the entrance to the Iranian cultural center in the Lebanese capital, killing 5 people and injuring 80. One killer detonated a bomb, the other a motorbike. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Abdullah al-Azzam Brigades, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda.
DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources wonder if Bandar’s detachment from Saudi policy-making on Syria, as National Security Adviser and Intelligence Director (see leading article), will indeed cause the ongoing terrorist attacks on Hizballah and Iranian targets in Lebanon to taper off
It was he who ordered Saudi agents to form ties with radical Islamist elements, like the Abdullah al-Azzam Brigades, who are desperate to vent their resentment of Iranian and Hizballah’s military involvement in the Syrian war.
The Wednesday attack may have been Bandar’s swan’s song in the Lebanese arena. He is no longer around to advance cash and weapons to these Sunni terrorists for more hits, and Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who has taken over the reins of Syrian policy, is unlikely to approve their continuation.
Lebanon’s loss of protectors noted in Tehran and Damascus
Indeed Lebanon will have to come to terms with being abandoned – not just by the Obama administration, which has lost interest in that country, but also by Saudi Arabia, which for decades stood foursquare behind its Sunni and Christian allies there.
Iran’s al Qods Brigades commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani is no doubt rubbing his hands over this turn of events, along with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Soleimani has only just been given charge of the conduct of Tehran’s plans for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians (as first reported by DEBKA Weekly 623). But he is testing the ground carefully before capitalizing on the triumph of the Saudi prince’s comedown.
That is why after 10 months of political stagnation, a government suddenly took form Saturday, Feb. 15, under Tammam Salam, with only two portfolios for Hizballah.
The Shiite militia’s leader Hassan Nasrallah was persuaded to temporarily content himself with this trifling share of government on instructions from the al Qods chief.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s Mid East sources, this step fits in with Soleimani’s four-point master-plan for seizing control of Lebanon and its army before the end of 2014:
Soleimani and Nasrallah pick next president and army chief
1. This plan critically requires continuous government in Lebanon to succeed. There has to be an administration in office when incumbent president Michel Suleiman’s term expires in May, in order to prepare a new election for the presidency. Without a government or a president, Lebanon’s ruling system wouldl fall apart.
2. Iran, Syria and Hizballah have made their choice for president of Lebanon. He is army chief Gen. Jean Khawaji, who is close to Syrian President Assad and more recently to Iran as well.
3. They have also selected his replacement as next chief of staff: Khawaji knows that after he is elected president, Gen. Soleimani and Nasrallah expect him to name Gen. Charles Rukhn head of the Lebanese army.
4. Rukhn’s main asset is his wife. He is married to the daughter of Michel Aoun, leader of the Patriotic Movement and one of the only Lebanese Christian leaders who supported Hezbollah for years. Of late he has distanced himself from the Shiite movement and Tehran. But the appointment of his son-in-law as chief of staff would regain Aoun’s sympathy.
Gen. Rukhn’s appointment would be tantamount to the full control of Lebanon’s armed forces by Iran’s Al Qods Brigades and Hizballah. This counts for more than control of the presidency or the prime minister’s office.
With neither the US nor Saudi Arabia caring any longer to exercise influence in Beirut – and most pro-Western and pro-Saudi figures having read the map and fled to Paris or a Gulf emirate – no one appears to be left to put a spoke in the Iranian-Hizballah scheme to grab Lebanon.