DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 2, 2004
US President George W. Bush took advantage of his end-of-year vacation to launch a surprise move in the Middle East. He added the region to the remit of his special envoy on Iraqi debt relief, the former secretary of state James Baker, after commending him on progress made so far, especially in persuading China and Japan to ease up on their share of Iraq's $120bn debt. Baker will decide when the time is right for his trip. debkafile's exclusive sources in Washington lay bare the most important layer of Baker's new mission. While working to persuade Syrian president Bashar Assad to part with the $3bn of Saddam Hussein's money he is hanging onto in secret - admitting only to holding one-sixth of that amount - the former US secretary of state will also bend his diplomatic energies to the Syrian-Israel dispute and the close ties the Assad regime maintains with the Lebanese Hizballah and hard-line Palestinian terrorist groups.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 29, 2003
The Syrian-Israel diplomatic track has been reduced to mathematical polemic before taking any other shape. Ariel Sharon told his cabinet in Jerusalem that any Israeli response to Syrian president Bashar Assad's call for fresh negotiations must begin at zero percent, ie on a slate wiped clean of all failed diplomatic efforts from the past. Assad says 80 percent of the issues on any future agenda are not negotiable as they were settled in previous talks. The gap appears unbridgeable except by negotiation - ergo, impasse. This week Washington decided to discover what it was about.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 25, 2003
Cairo is still fuming over the "flying shoe ambush" to which Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher was treated when he tried to pray Monday, December 12, at al Aqsa mosque on Temple Mount, Jerusalem. Mubarak regards the assault as a spiteful rejoinder from Yasser Arafat for the Egyptian minister's failure to call on him in Ramallah. Since the incident, Palestinian delegations have been rushing to the Egyptian capital to grovel. Cairo entertains a strong suspicion that there was more in the affair that meets the eye. Hints have been dropped that either the two teams had advance knowledge of the attack and orders not to intervene or, worse, Arafat and the Palestinian authorities have abandoned control of al-Aqsa mosque to radical Muslims.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 14, 2003
Syrian president Bashar Assad is due to begin a state visit to Athens Monday, December 15. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Athens sources report that Greek foreign minister Georges Papandreou entertains high hopes of a sparkling diplomatic breakthrough from the visit, bright enough to eclipse the Greek's drab performance as former European Union president. To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE.
What Papandreou is trying to set up is a summit between Assad and Israeli minister Ariel Sharon. He sold the plan to Greek prime minister Costas Simitis: "This is our big chance to stage a dramatic turnabout in relations between Damascus and Jerusalem," said Papandreou. "What if Assad and Sharon should start talking in Athens?" Simitis embraced the plan with enthusiasm.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report November 11, 2003
On Monday, November 10, Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz said that as long as Syria provides bases for Palestinian terrorists for attacks in Israel, his government reserves the right of self-defense. He is reported to have said this to US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld during their two-hour discussion in Washington which also ranged over the upgrading of bilateral intelligence exchanges and the Iranian threat to the region. To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE. Last month, Syria made its position clear when spokesmen in Damascus warned Israel of a second warfront opening up on the Golan Heights by means of "Syrian citizens mounting attacks on Israeli settlements."
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 29, 2003
A shrill chorus of threats has been emanating from Syria, the Palestinians and the Hizballah as the Middle East heads toward another bleak winter. President Bashar Assad is still smarting from Israel's October 5 retaliatory air strike against a terrorist training camp at Ein Hatsav 15 miles from Damascus - the deepest Israeli raid inside Syria since the 1973 war. It followed the deaths of 19 Israelis in a suicide bombing in Haifa and Israeli accusations of Syrian support for terrorist groups and activities. Not content with the warnings issuing from Syrian officials every couple of days, Assad dispatched his military chief, General Hassan Turkmani, and deputy chief of staff general Ali Habib - widely regarded as the Syrian army's most professional commander -- to Beirut on Monday, October 27 for some straight talk with Lebanese leaders. They notified President Emil Lahoud, army chief of staff General Michel Suleiman and military intelligence chief General Michel Azar in no uncertain terms that any future Israel strikes would bring forth Syrian reprisals. In such a contingency, Lebanon would be required to stand shoulder to shoulder with Syria in a united front.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 14, 2003
According to one Damascus source, Syria has followed the Israeli air raid of a Palestinian site on its soil by secretly calling up 300,000 reservists to beef up its standing army of roughly the same number. This figure, in the view of debkafile's military sources, is implausibly high. A large call-up was certainly staged after the Israeli raid. But in Syrian terms, 50,000 men would be the more realistic figure, plus standby orders to tens of thousands more. In general, the attempt to depict Syria as another of Ariel Sharon's victims fails to take account of the "victim's" proactive role in the Iraq war in support of Saddam Hussein. It ranges from the asylum granted Iraqi political and military elite to the smuggling of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction out of the country several weeks before the war in March and after it began. In between, Bashar Assad has deployed thousands of Syrian combatants in Iraq as well as Hizballah, Palestinians and any other Arabs willing to fight American troops in Iraq. To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 22, 2003
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Syrian Vice President Khalim Haddam Saturday, September 20, dismissed any suggestion of Damascus bowing to pressure from Washington - or being scared by economic sanctions. American threats are futile, he said. Syria does little business with the US; its main trading partners are European. The Syrian leader was responding to US demands for a halt to the passage of terrorists and Islamic fighters pouring into Iraq and an end to Syrian-based terrorist activity. To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE. One of top anti-US officials left in place in the latest government reshuffle in Damascus, Haddam made this speech while preparing to receive a delegation of angry Arab-Sunni tribal leaders from the Syrian-Iraq borderlands.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 7, 2003
On July 6, the day before he took off for Cairo, Syrian President Bashar Assad signed Decree 408 in the name of the ruling Baath party. This bureaucratic measure hit the Syrian political system like a bolt from the blue. In a trice, the party which had governed ever corner of Syria's civil and military administration single-handed for forty years was removed from the levers of control. For decades, the lowliest officials in government and the economy, every university lecturer, journalist, military and police officer was obliged to be a member of the Baath party. Decree 408 dismissed the party as the main engine of power. Assad's next step, debkafile reports from its Middle East sources, is a major government reshuffle. By divorcing the ruling party from its influence over all forms of government in Syria, Assad has shown himself to be the only Arab leader who understands the import of the Iraq War in terms of regional democratization.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report July 1, 2003
Damascus filed only a mild protest at Washington's tardiness in repatriating the five Syrian soldiers captured by US troops when on June 18 when they attacked a convoy suspected of carrying Saddam Hussein in flight to Syria. The Syrians, three wounded, were handed back Monday, June 30. The Bashar government did not make too much of a fuss over the incident, inhibited by reasons set forth in the account carried in DEBKA-Net-Weekly on June 27: The importance of the US commando attack on June 18 lies in its location - inside Syria. A US official indeed admitted the American force may have pursued part of the convoy across the Iraqi border into Syria. In fact, the subsequent clash, in which five Syrian border guards were captured, occurred at the Syrian border post of Abu Kamal, 365 miles south of Damascus. The convoy was destroyed. Our military sources reveal that the Syrian side lost between 25 and 30 dead in their first encounter with US combatants.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 15, 2003
The cat was out of the bag - almost - as a result of Operation Peninsula Strike, the massive US crackdown against a lethal brew of anti-American resistance forces which have been bedeviling US troops north of Baghdad. A substantial quotient of foreign combatants from Arab countries - Saudis, Yemenis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians and Palestinians from Syria or Lebanon - was discovered to be mixed in with the Fedayeen Saddam, Baathists and former Republican Guards officers mounting lethal ambushes against US troops in and around Baghdad. At the same time, no one says where they are coming from.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 10, 2003
Pressure from the Bush administration is getting to Syrian President Bashar Assad. It is catching him wrong-footed in mid-maneuver for the rejuvenation of his antiquated government while fending off popular disaffection. These days, he never misses an opportunity to labor to foreign visitors that Syria and Lebanon should have a "road map to peace" just like the Israelis and the Palestinians. In other words, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's willingness to promise the Palestinians a state of their own by 2005 ahead of negotiations, ought to be translated into a comparable advance Israeli pledge to return the Golan to Syria.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 4, 2003
Syria is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources as having secretly disposed of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction by moving them into eastern Lebanon for burial in the Beqaa Valley. Iraq's biological weapons may be there too. They were interred deep under the heroin poppy and cotton fields in two of the most fertile regions of Lebanon: the valley stretching between Jabal Akroum, the town of al Qbayyat and the Syrian border, and the land lying between the towns of Al Hirmil and al Labwah between the Orontes River and the Syrian frontier. On February 14, about a month before the start of the war in Iraq, DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue 97 ran an article captioned "Is Iraq's WMD cache in Lebanon available to Al Qaeda?"
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 2, 2003
One member of the British duo spent four months in Syria preparing for the operation. His partner joined him in the second week of April after taking a circuitous route through Europe. Together, they were led by a Hamas or Hizballah guide through Jordan to the Allenby Bridge crossing into the West Bank and Israel entering on their British passports. A taxi drove them to the Gaza Strip. There, Hanif and Sharif lay low for about two weeks as guests of a Hamas cell that also numbers Hizballah operatives.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 21, 2003
Sunday, April 20, Damascus surrendered a top official of the Saddam Hussein's regime, one of the eight granted sanctuary (as listed by debkafile last Friday, April 18), Republican Guards secretary Kemal Mustafa al Tikriti, who is married to Saddam's youngest daughter. The Syrians pushed him across the border to Iraq where he 'surrendered" to US forces. This was Syrian president Bashar Assad's first response to the newly-delivered US ultimatum: deliver Iraq's WMD and regime leaders or face military action. President George W. Bush noted with satisfaction that Syria was beginning to "understand the message". But, according to debkafile's Washington sources, the handover of all the high-ranking Iraqi fugitives sheltering in Syria will not satisfy the US government or get it off the Assad government's back.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 26, 2002
The construction of a new ring road around Damascus was the pretext for an outbreak of popular anti-government fury in the Syrian capital this week. Until now, stringent measures by the Syrian authorities have kept any hint of the unrest from leaking out.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 2, 2002
Informed Arab circles, including high Saudi and Egyptian officials, are wondering what lies behind an order the Syrian president Bashar Assad has just issued to the radical Damascus-based Palestinian "Fronts" to break off all operational ties with Yasser Arafat. debkafile's Middle East sources say the directive applies to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front from the Liberation of Palestine; the Hamas and Jihad Islami, both of whom maintain headquarters in the Syrian capital, turned their backs on Arafat some time ago. The Palestinian leader finds himself ostracized, therefore, not only by the Americans and Israelis, but also by Syria and its Palestinian proteges.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 7, 2002
Monday, May 6, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon visited the Pentagon. On the same day, John Bolton, US undersecretary of state, disarmament expert and the closest official in that department to the White House, accused Libya,Syria and Cuba of pursuing weapons of mass destruction. The terms of this warning strongly resembled the language Washington uses in reference to Saddam Hussein. Bolton warned all three of American action to ensure they do not supply terrorists with such arms.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 30, 2002
Syria has filed a strong protest with Washington, accusing the Sixth Fleet of a "piracy operation" against two Syrian commercial vessels on the Mediterranean. The US Charge d'Affaires in Damascus was summoned to the Syrian foreign ministry Wednesday January 30 to explain Sixth Fleet interception and search off Cyprus of two Syrian-registered merchant vessels, the "Captain Mohamed" and "Hajji Rahmeh", that were shipping citrus from the Turkish port of Mersin.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 18, 2002
The US State Department still lists Syria as a sponsor of terror for the support and hospitality it extends to radical Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jhad and Hamas, and for backing the Lebanese Hizballah. Damascus has refused outright to take measures against those organizations. Yet senior Americans frequenting Damascus this month are full of praise for Syria's cooperation in the war against terror.