Across the Bay

Monday, December 24, 2007

Syria Threatened Spanish UNIFIL Contingent

Now, doesn't this come as a surprise:

Syria's secret service has threatened Spanish soldiers in Lebanon in a bid to block the extradition of suspected arms dealer Monzer Al-Kassar to the United States, the newspaper El Mundo reported Monday.

The Spanish intelligence service, according to a memo cited by the newspaper, fears that troops on UN deployment in south-east Lebanon could be targeted if the Spanish cabinet ratify a judicial verdict and send Kassar to the United States.

General Assef Schawkat, chief of Syrian military intelligence, wrote to his opposite number in Spain: "If you think we are going to ignore the affront inflicted by north-American henchmen on our brother (Kassar), you don't really know us and [you] are no friends of the Syrian people."

Dated end-July, the note also refers to Schawkat delivering a thinly-veiled threat during a discussion with Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Shawkat reportedly warned Moratinos that it is not the Americans who are protecting Spanish troops in Lebanon, and such protection could disappear.

The original report can be read here.

Of course, this is hardly news. I have written in the past that a high-ranking European official I spoke to told me that the Syrians threatened him and the French troops directly to his face.

I've also noted that Syria's officials (from Assad, to Sharaa, to Moallem, to Mohsen Bilal, to Faysal Meqdad, to Amr Salem) and their pitbulls in Lebanon, especially Wi'am Wahhab, but also Michel Samaha, Charles Ayyoub, as well as Hezbollah's Nabil Qawouk, had openly and explicitly not only threatened to hit UNIFIL, but predicted the hit on them (detailing who would supposedly be responsible: "al-Qaeda"), back in late 2006!

And this is hardly the first report in a European paper about direct threats by the Syrians to attack UNIFIL. Back in June, Le Monde published a report about how Assad directly threatened Ban Ki-Moon.

Al-Kassar himself, even judging from Shawkat's response, has ties to the Syrian leadership as well. Kassar was placed on the Iraqi government's most wanted list for being one of the main sources of financial and logistical support for the insurgency. We all know Syria's official role in that.

This is why Syria has been on the state sponsors of terrorism list since 1979 and why it should remain there (remember this?). Terrorism (including support for Islamist groups) and terrorist extortion is the only tool with which the Syrian regime advances its objectives.

But then again, look how people like Moratinos respond to this terrorist thuggery. The Spanish report reads: "The Syrian chief told Alberto Saiz [CNI director] that he had the word of minister Moratinos that Spain will not hand over al-Kassar to the US.
And he raised the following question: if this promise were not kept, 'What respect does a country deserve that does not keep the word given to another friendly country.'"

Update: Michael Young picks up on the story over at Reason's Hit and Run:

More alarming was the information that Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, had assured the Syrians that Kassar would not be extradited. Moratinos has long tried to maintain good ties with Damascus, to the extent that he refused to even privately admit that Syria had played a role in the bomb attack against the Spanish contingent of the United Nations force in Lebanon last June that killed six peacekeepers. At the time, U.N. officials were privately saying the exact opposite, noting that there was anger with Syria at the U.N. because of the attack.

Knowing this, you have to wonder if the memo was leaked to negate Moratinos' promise.

The attack on the Spanish UNIFIL troops came two weeks after al-Kassar's arrest.