DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 10, 2005
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Two generals were in Moscow on the same day, September 26: the head of Israel's National Security Council Maj.-Gen (Res.) Giora Eiland and the Syrian chief of staff General Ali Habib. Both also called on the Russian chief of staff, Gen. Yuri Baluyevski. The Syrian general came out of his meeting with a brilliant contract for the sale of the advanced Iskander SS-26 surface missile. The Israeli general ran into a blank wall when he tried to persuade the Russian to withhold the missile from the Assad regime. Last January, when the deal was first broached, the Bush administration stepped in and obtained a promise from president Vladimir Putin to call off the sale, as did Israel's Ariel Sharon during the Russian president's visit in May.
Putin has broken those pledges.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 4, 2005
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How to save Syrian president Bashar Assad and his regime from toppling - or rather how to save him from himself? This was the main topic exercising Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah when they put their heads together in Riyadh Monday Oct. 3. They needed to talk urgently because the UN investigator of the Hariri assassination Detlev Mehlis reported to the UN secretary general Kofi Annan and the Security Council that he has finished his business in Damascus and would not be returning.
The clincher was obtained, according to debkafile's intelligence sources, in a Lebanese security forces swoop on the MTC Touch mobile phone company in Beirut Sept. 27. The officers copied data from eight telephone lines and took several employes away for questioning.
On September 23, DEBKA-Net-Weekly revealed:
The Saudi monarch is bidding for President George W. Bush to give the Syrian president another chance. He is offering a Saudi-Egyptian guarantee for Assad to live up to any obligations he may be persuaded to undertake.
ebanese security forces swoop on the MTC Touch mobile phone company in Beirut.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 4, 2005
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Last week, Syrian test-fired one elderly Scud B (200km range) and two Scud D (700km range) missiles, capable of delivering air-burst chemical weapons. Syria's missiles are routinely tested every summer. This time, Damascus took particular care to aim the missiles southwest, so as not to mistakenly hit US forces operating in the al Qaim province on the Iraqi side of its border. The Scud B broke up and shed debris over Turkey. All the same, The New York Times and the US State Department, confirming the Israeli report of the test, made a big fuss. debkafile's military and Middle East sources report that a strong sense of trouble brewing pervades ruling circles in Damascus, as the Syrian Baath prepares for its 10th convention Monday, June 6, a gathering of major moment for the stability and future of the Assad regime. As the date approaches a stack of problems is piling up on the Syrian ruler, the price of keeping a clandestine finger in the Lebanon pie -even after the exit of his troops and of sticking to his ties with the Iraqi Baath.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 11, 2005
Syrian president Bashar Assad is trying to turn his back on the fiasco of his exit from Lebanon and shore up his regime by a secret crash reform program - although one that is careful not to put the presidency on the block. Stage one took place in total hush Saturday, April 9. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's exclusive Middle East sources report that Assad wants his epic political and military revolution to be over and done in three months. He proposes to sever the reciprocal lifeline between army and party and shut down the movement's pan-Arab center, so withdrawing the mother party's support from the many Baath branches around the Arab world, especially in Lebanon and Jordan. He even seeks to rewrite the national constitution and introduce an open market economy. This is a very tall order as well as a dangerous gamble.
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DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 5, 2005
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To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE. Syrian ruler Bashar Assad gave nothing away on Lebanon in his unscheduled address to parliament in Damascus Saturday, March 5. Repeatedly contradicting himself, he said: "We will not stay one day if Lebanese consensus asks us to leave". He then added: but we cannot desert the Lebanese president to whom we have a commitment. Assad's decision to redeploy Syrian troops eastward to the Beqaa Valley up to Syrian border sidestepped the issue. The Syrian ruler did not promise to pull a single Syrian troop or secret agent out of Lebanon. He also declared for good measure that Syria`s role in the country would not end with a military withdrawal (which he did not promise.) Sunday, February 20, Iranian military transports put down in Damascus military airport. They were the tail end of the biggest military airlift Iran has launched in the Middle East to date. Its objective was to set up shared Iranian-Syrian safeguards against attacks on the Islamic Republic's nuclear installations and/or Syrian strategic targets.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 19, 2005
Monday, February 21, presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac meet in Paris. With Lebanon at the forefront of their agenda, they will have to look hard at some tough questions. How to handle the situation if Assad orders his Syrian troops in Lebanon to march on Beirut in defense of his puppet government? And worse still, what if the full weight of the Syrian army is sent across the border to squash the uprising? Will the two Western leaders dispatch a joint US-French force to repulse the Syrian onslaught? To force the hands of the American and French presidents, the leaders of the Lebanese uprising are preparing a spectacular event to coincide with their summit. One proposal is for a hundreds of thousands of protesters to march through Beirut's streets and seize the parliament building.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 15, 2005
(See earlier Exclusive Analysis:Syrian Military Intelligence Eliminates Hariri and Reform Hopes for Lebanon)
Just hours after former prime minister Rafiq Hariri was murdered in a massive car bomb explosion outside the five-star Saint Georges Hotel on Beirut's seafront Monday, February 14, enraged Lebanese Muslim, Christian, Druse opposition leaders declared the pro-Syrian Karame government illegal, demanded its resignation and pointed the finger of blame at Damascus. First riots erupted in Beirut and Hariri's home town of Sidon. French president Jacques Chirac, a close friend of the dead Lebanese politician, bluntly accused Syria and its Lebanese stooges of orchestrating his assassination and demanded an immediate international probe. As the opposition begins to fight back for the brutal slaying, the whiff of war hangs over the country that was wracked for 15 years by civil bloodshed up until 1991.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 14, 2005
Monday, February 14, Rafiq Hariri, five times Lebanese prime minister, multibillionaire, builder of a country devastated by 15 years of civil war, was assassinated by a huge car bomb that ravaged the Lebanese capital's seafront. Two ministers in his party and 6 of his bodyguards, including its chief Yahya Al Arb, were among the dead. The attack is described as the most brutal since the civil conflict ended in 1991. Hariri's assassination is one up for all the violent forces at work in the Middle East, for Assad as sponsor of terrorism and for the pro-Syrian government in Beirut. It is bound to have a negative effect on the Sharon-Abbas reconciliation strategy and their hopes with American encouragement of bringing Palestinian terrorist groups round to reducing their attacks, much less a truce.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 12, 2005
Disturbing reports were coming out of the Russian capital Wednesday, January 12, about Russian president Vladimir Putin's plan to accede to Syria's request for advanced weaponry during president Bashar Assad's visit to Moscow on January 24. debkafile's US and Israeli security sources quickly contradicted reports that 18 Iskander-M or SS-X-26 surface-to-surface missiles were on the table. The items for sale, they revealed, are advanced SA-10 air defense systems of the type that protects Moscow and shoulder-held SA-18 anti-air missiles, whose transfer to the Hizballah and/or Iraqi guerrillas would move at least two sets of goal posts in the Middle East balance of strength. The SA-10 is an effective defense against Israeli warplanes and missiles, including cruise missiles. Its presence in Syria would therefore knock a serious hole in Israel's deterrent ability against Assad and the Hizballah.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 11, 2005
Last Sunday, January 2, US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage performed his last major mission before stepping down in favor of Robert B. Zoellick, whom incoming secretary Condoleezza Rice has picked as her deputy. (Zoellick, currently trade representative in charge US world trade, served as deputy to secretary of state James Baker in the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations. This mission took Armitage to Damascus with nine American demands. But the punchline was in the last demand. General Casey, commander of US forces in Iraq has already received orders from the commander-in-chief in the White House to pursue military action inside Syria according to his best military judgment if Damascus continues to meddle in Iraq's affairs. To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 4, 2004
Syrian ruler Bashar Assad is pitching his offer of peace talks with Israel to disguise and dodge his real woes: US and French demands to disarm the Hizballah terrorists and let Lebanon have a fair election and the internal divisions bedeviling his regime. The Bush administration and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon are not fooled. On November 12, Assad made the unusual gesture of taking UN Middle East Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen aside in a quiet corner of his palace in Damascus for a long tete-a-tete. Aides - even an interpreter - were left standing outside the door. When he came out three hours later, the UN official announced with the same sort of enthusiasm he used to show about Yasser Arafat's peaceful intentions that Assad is ready to start negotiations with Israel at once without prior conditions and even pay a visit to Jerusalem. Washington sources assured debkafile that his words bore no relation to his conversation with the Syrian president. Larsen's mission was not to discuss Syrian-Israel relations but rather to deliver a two-point ultimatum from Washington:
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 27, 2004
Before deporting him to Lebanon in 1991, the late Yitzhak Rabin called Ezz-Eldin Sheikh al-Khalil "the snake's head," singling him out as the terror master who raised and handled Hamas' most accomplished terror operatives, Adnan al Hool and Mohammed Deif. Yasser Arafat used to claim in the early days of the current Palestinian confrontation with Israel that it was not he who pulled the strings of terror but Sheikh al-Khalil from Jordan. Until Sunday, September 25, few Israelis had heard of him as, lacking political ambitions, he kept to the shadows of anonymity and stealth. For two years, the snake's head wielded authority as supreme commander of Hamas's terrorist and suicide operations against Israel, outranked only by Khalid Mashal.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 14, 2004
Israel's chief of staff, Lt.-Gen Moshe Yaalon put his hand in a hornet's nest when he said in an interview: The question is will we reach agreement with Syria for the right price. If you ask me if an agreement that is correctly balanced is theoretically possible, I say that mindful of Israel's military needs, an accord with Syria can be attained which leads to Israel's withdrawal from Golan. The army is capable of defending Israel's border wherever they are. Most quotes left the "theoretically" caveat out of their reports, as the general should have foreseen. They also ignored what he said clearly about the here and now. He noted Syria has missiles that can reach all parts of Israel and chemical capabilities, thus making the point that as long as those threats remained, the strategic plateau was a vital element of Israel's security.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 22, 2004
Obeying a tradition of more than a quarter of a century, the Syrian army shifts some officers around twice a year - in summer and winter. It is a game of musical chairs with little impact on the armed forces as a whole. This time was different. On June 1, DEBKA-Net-Weekly exclusive military sources uncovered the largest single purge in the annals of Syria's armed forces that was carried out on the orders of President Bashar Assad. Forty percent of the staff officers with the general command in Damascus were dismissed or forced into retirement; half the Syrian divisional commanders in Syria and Lebanon relieved of their duties - laid off or assigned to minor staff positions in Damascus and elsewhere. The top level of the Syrian air force has been peeled off and replaced with younger men - except for the top commander and the head of its intelligence branch.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 10, 2004
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.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 23, 2004
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There were no giveaways, balloons or barbecues, but business was booming this month at a bizarre Syrian bazaar - a used tank lot at al-Qamishli, located at the point where the borders of Syria, Iraq and Turkey meet. On sale: Russian T-72 tanks. No, not in mint condition, hardly top-of-the-line merchandise, the tank on sale was a Soviet product purchased by the Syrian army in the 1980s, well enough maintained and offered at a rock bottom price of $3,000 apiece. To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE. This arms market has sprung up, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly`s exclusive intelligence and counter-terrorism sources have discovered, in back of the large train station at al-Qamishli, a forward point whence freight trains laden with oil and other products picked up at Syria`s Mediterranean ports once set off for Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 19, 2004
Syrian president Bashar Assad is a very worried man. In a typical reflex action, he sent his Hizballah proxy to shoot up an Israeli military tractor, killing one Israeli soldier and injuring another, on the very day, January 19, that a group of Syrian opposition leaders based overseas held its first known public get-together in Brussels. debkafile's sources report the group last met five months ago in Washington. Its new venue in Europe recalls the pattern of conduct followed by overseas Iraqi resistance groups prior to the Iraq war. Just as any such meeting Washington would have had to be sanctioned by the powers-that-be, so too Monday's gathering in Brussels could not have taken place without the approval of European Union leaders and the Belgian government. The Bashar regime finds itself increasingly isolated. Europe is clearly lining up with the United States on the Syrian problem. As one of Damascus's main trading partners, Europe is capable of squeezing the Assad regime economically even more than America.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 16, 2004
At its wits' end to pierce the thicket of rhetoric emanating from Damascus and Jerusalem, the White House has plucked the veteran Middle East hand, Edward P. Djerejian, from academia for a fresh initiative to try and decode the conflicting signals broadcast by the Assad regime on whether or not and under what conditions they are prepared to resume peace talks. It has been a month since Assad gave his seemingly groundbreaking interview to the New York Times and two weeks since he visited Ankara and hinted to Turkish leaders that if it were up to him, he would resume peace talks with Israel immediately. Wednesday, January 14, Damascus rejected Israeli president Moshe Katsav's public invitation to Assad to put his money where his mouth is and come to Jerusalem.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 14, 2004
The Syrian leadership, in an urgent session on Sunday, January 11, resolved on two fresh initiatives after failing to make head or tail of Israel's wordy and inconsistent responses to Bashar Assad's feelers for the resumption of the peace talks that broke down four years ago. The first such feeler was broached in a New York Times interview last month. Since then, different Israeli government and military officials have been tacking and weaving between outright rejection and wary affirmatives. The Damascus meeting decided to seize the diplomatic high ground provided by Israel's apparently negative response and move forward in two seemingly opposite directions: in the first instance, a charm campaign to throw off Washington's heavy pressure and its implied threat of military action against Syrian targets both on its soil and in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley; in the second, to bury the twenty-one-year old hatchet between the Assad regime and Yasser Arafat. This week Damascus moved forward on both these fronts:
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 10, 2004
Update January 12: Turkish Cypriots form a new government led by Mehmet Ali Talat's Republican Turkish party which favors UN's reunification plan Greek Cypriots and others may remain skeptical, but debkafile's intelligence sources believe Turkey to be genuinely committed to a speedy settlement of the decades-old division of Cyprus. Speed is of the essence because Cyprus is due to join the European Union this May: if the division is healed, and a federation formed, the whole island will join; if Turkey's protege, Northern Cyprus, continues to hold out against the federal plan, only the internationally recognized government of Greek Cyprus will join the EU, and the northern Turkish third, which Turkey alone recognizes and supports, will be more isolated than ever.
debkafile's confidence is based on the secret talks that took place this week between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, and Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, who was in Ankara for a 3-day state visit. Erdogan told Assad that the Turkish leadership had decided to force Rauf Denktash, the long-time Turkish Cypriot leader, to go along with the plan first put forward by the UN's secretary-general Kofi Annan in November 2002. This envisages a federation of two constituent parts, with a rotating presidency. Last March talks on this plan collapsed after Denktash held out against it.
But Northern Cyprus is entirely dependent on Turkish support, and on the 30,000 Turkish troops that have been stationed there for the 30 years since Turkey invaded the island in 1974. According to debkafile's sources, Erdogan told Assad that Turkey has decided to withdraw this occupying army after Cyprus joins the EU, thus forcing Denktash's hand. And, indeed, Turkey has good reason to do so. It is itself an applicant to join the EU at some point, and furthering a peace in Cyprus will advance its case.