Across the Bay

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Syrian Memo and Order of Operations

Close observers of the Syrian modus operandi once again see that the Syrian regime is following its standard operating procedure with the latest blast in Damascus, followed by the blast today in Lebanon. The patterns are all exactly the same, the flacks are the same, and the message is the same.

Let's start with some context: Assad's clear focus on Tripoli as a potential window for a desired military comeback in Lebanon. This, as I noted before, started well before this year, all the way back to 2006 and after it with the regime info operations with the participation of people like Sy Hersh (not to mention utterly dishonest and/or idiotic pieces about "al-Qaeda in Lebanon," which echoed propaganda by flacks like Fidaa Itani et al.), which was followed by the Fathi Yakan and Fateh Islam fiasco, to the concentrated attacks against the Army in the north, including the assassination of Gen. Francois Hajj, to the Syrian-instigated clashes in Tripoli, all the way to Assad's comments to president Suleiman about "terrorists running around in your country" being responsible for the assassination of Gen. Muhammad Suleiman (which is total nonsense of course -- not to mention Baradei's comments about his assassination) and his comments at the Damascus summit dictating to Suleiman that he should crack down on "extremists" in the north, followed by the Syrian troop movements at the border, and then the recent (nothing is coincidental) renewed campaign by Rami Makhlouf's paper against Bandar Bin Sultan -- right before the attack -- how he had really orchestrated the assassination of Hariri by bringing in a Salafist cell into Lebanon.

Then came the explosion in Damascus, which was, predictably (and oh so transparently), immediately followed by yet another attack against the Lebanese Army in northern Lebanon. And today, Rami Makhlouf's paper once again immediately repeated the Bandar-Lebanon line regarding the Damascus explosion.

The Syrians immediately tampered with the facts of the explosion and quarterbacked, albeit clumsily, what leaked and what the emerging talking points that would be disseminated by regime tools, flacks and hired pens (Landis, Moubayed, and the Bouthaina Shaaban-Michel Smaha machine) and picked up by the media (more on that below).

For instance, as columnist Fares Khashan chronicled, the news that the attack was made to be more against the Shiite shrine as opposed to the Palestine Branch of Military Intelligence, not to mention that its timing was officially changed from 7:30 to 8:45AM. The claim, by an eyewitness, that a general was killed in the explosion was muzzled. That the general may very well have been the deputy chief of the Palestine Branch, Gen. Abdel Karim Abbas -- one of the Syrian officers interrogated by the Hariri probe for their suspected involvement in the murder -- was obviously buried by the regime. However, it's now being picked up by European agencies, such as AKI, and that fact is generating curiosity in European diplomatic circles.

Khashan lists a number of illogical, buried, suspicious or manipulated elements, all of which pose serious questions to the official regime talking points which is being disseminated by its tools like Landis and Moubayed. This is not to mention other scenarios that have floated, including eyewitness stories that this was a "work accident," as it were. Other eyewitness accounts were also dumped.

In the rush to disseminate the regime memo from Syria, Landis took the lead, but Moubayed soon followed, crystallizing the official talking points. Here's the king of comedy with his "analysis":

Another observer, who declined to give his name, had a different theory.

"This is either Israel, or a certain Arab country that has had nothing but scorn for Syria since 2005. I don't want to mention names; everybody knows who I am taking about," he said.
...
The attack ... might harden Syria's position on Lebanon and what it sees as the rise of militancy in the north of its smaller neighbour. (Emphasis mine.)

Yes, "another observer." Riiiiight. That "other observer" just "coincidentally" happened to regurgitate verbatim what the editorial in Rami Makhlouf's al-Watan said, what the Bouthaina-Smaha propaganda outlets have put out, and what the official regime rags also put out: that this is a Lebanese-Saudi-Salafist conspiracy!

However, even assuming that this line of reasoning -- that Jihadis are behind this -- is accurate, why is the focus on Lebanon, as opposed to, say, Iraq or Syria itself? Well, the king of comedy has the answer ready: "Syria's ties with militants including Al Qaida-linked groups is complex and complicated."

You don't say! Let's review some of that -- in the very words of this regime clown and his fellow court jester, Landis -- shall we?

Here's a sample of good ol' Sami's dizzying accounts of those "complex" ties, which change according to the particular regime memo at the time.

What about the fellow flack, Landis? Well, in 2006 he wrote: "Syria has the ability to funnel arms to Hezbollah and Palestinian groups as well as radical Sunni groups which allows it to destabilize Lebanon if its interests are ignored."

Ain't that the truth. More on that in a second. But before that, let's see what he said about the regime's cooperation with al-Qaeda: "The al-Qaeda type jihadist groups are not emerging in Syria because Syria encourages them in other countries." Indeed. Now compare that with the Zisser quote I used in my October 2007 post:

Damascus started to see the Islamists as perhaps the only possible means by which to enhance its regional standing, gain influence in neighboring countries and bring domestic tranquility to Syria itself.

Landis pushed it further in a June 15, 2007 post, where he adopted and justified Syria's attack on UNIFIL and Lebanese figures: "Syria seems willing to play this game of chicken. It believes it can survive it. The fact that there have been no successful acts of terrorism in Syria for 20 years has produced a sense of invulnerability."

Now we are being told that the "threat" of "Salafists" is coming to Syria from... Lebanon! Riiiight.

Once again, here's Moubayed issuing threats and regurgitating the Syrian order of operations in a remarkably poor, even shameful report by Nick Blanford, which does nothing but uncritically advance the official Syrian talking points -- which are orders of operations and threats:

"We have extremists in Iraq and in Lebanon. Any one of them can be suspects," in the Damascus bombing, says Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst. "If an intelligence war has been waged by any of the usual suspects against Syria, we are in for difficult times since security is a red-line in Syria."

So Iraq is casually thrown in there, but as Moubayed had said earlier, the real regime order of operations is against Lebanon. After all, the regime's ties to al-Qaeda in Iraq are "complex and complicated." Moubayed repeated the same regime talking points in a pathetic piece written by the often-ridiculous Borzou Daragahi of the LAT, which quotes another flack, Ahmad Moussalli (a hack belonging to Fouad Makhzoumi, another insignificant, but wealthy, clown of the Syrians):

"The handwriting has been on the wall for a while," Sami Moubayed, a political analyst in Damascus, the Syrian capital, said Sunday. "There have been signs of trouble coming in from Iraq or Lebanon."

Daragahi, playing water carrier, makes sure to uncritically frame his piece around the official Syrian talking points which he was fed and which he regurgitated verbatim. He was rewarded by having an earlier, equally piss poor and sinister report, quoted back by "Syria's privately owned newspaper," i.e., Rami Makhlouf's paper, in a way that suits the narrative which they had fed him, verbatim. Hence, the paper's headline reads: "... The American Los Angeles Times pointed out that the north [Lebanon] extremists have received Saudi money to enhance their armament in the face of Hezbollah."

This circular "reporting" is a standard MO of the Syrians' info ops (see examples here and here), which they've used with Sy Hersh when they fed him that garbage about Fateh Islam, and then quoted it back as authoritative, "objective" Western reporting. This is how Western journalists become (willingly or not) water carriers and useful idiots and participants in the info ops of a violent terror-sponsoring regime.

Again, all of this now has been keeping with the theory that this is the work of Jihadists, which is by no means established. Nick Blanford's laughable citing of "initial suspicions" (defined by whom!? Why is it given uncritical credit?! Based on what, other than the regime's talking points, which are unchallenged in Blanford's report?! The "initial suspicion" was also "Israel"; is that supposed to be given credence too? Why isn't it being given such credence?) notwithstanding.

But even if we play on that turf, the notion that the threat comes from Lebanon's Salafists is absurd for the very simple reason that aside their utter marginality, the recent events in Tripoli have shown just how weak and scattered and ineffective the Salafists are in Lebanon (see here and here).

In fact, a recent report by none other than Nick Blanford ironically (if perhaps unintentionally) highlighted this fact. Bakri, for instance, is a clown in Tripoli. Blanford's piece by and large affirms that the Salafists aren't much in Lebanon, but at the same time he, or his editors, are trying to sell a more dramatic story, namely that we're on the verge of the worst because of the Salafists.

What is never explained is something I've written about repeatedly on the blog. Aside from the argument that there are many types of Salafists, and that most in Lebanon are non-violent, even if they are backwards, the fact is (as noted by the regime clowns above) several Salafist or Islamist groups, like Fathi Yakan's, Bilal Shaaban's, and Hashem Minqara's, are allied with Syria and Iran, while others in the Palestinian camps are handled by Hezbollah. (See here, here, and here, e.g.). These are the people nobody mentions (including luminaries like Hersh and Rosen). This is not to mention the Salafists' actual operational capabilities, especially inside Syria, which somehow no one bothers to critically examine.

And so, at the end, the "Salafist" talking points of the regime is irreparably punctured, especially given the regime's own collusion with jihadi groups and its "Grand Central" policy. But then again, it's merely an order of operations, and that's the light in which it must be read and nothing else. Hence the explosion in Lebanon today.

The NOW Lebanon editorial today sums it up, recalling what I started this post by dubbing the predictable Syrian modus operandi which they've been using for years:

It is prime time for Damascus to flash its credentials to the international community as the neighborhood cop, doing its bit for the war on terror.
...
Therefore, it is not in the realm of science fiction to posit that Syria is trying to create an in into Lebanon by claiming that Sunni terror groups – read Salafists – are destabilizing northern Lebanon. It will also argue that, since the Lebanese army cannot perform its national duty and crack down on these insurgents, the onus is on Syria to snuff out what Damascus is peddling as an odious threat to regional, not mention Syrian, security.

What the world forgets, or doesn’t even know for that matter, is that the Lebanese Salafists are overblown as a threat, and that any attempt by the army to go chasing ghosts in the North will only create dangerous tensions with Lebanon’s Sunnis. It is easy to tar the Salafists, rather than the Assad regime, with the al-Qaeda brush and suggest links between North Lebanon, rather than Damascus, and the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. But the reality is that they are by and large impoverished clerics eking out a living by seeking funding from benevolent Gulf nations. The criminal Salafist element, those who are recruiting for, and operating in, Iraq are either already known to the Syrian authorities or languishing in Lebanese jails.

Analysts who said that Syria had taken a page out of Moscow’s book and seen Russia’s behavior in South Ossetia and Georgia as a template for a similar show of regional strength must be more convinced than ever, especially in light of last week’s deployment of Syrian troops on Lebanon’s northern border, that a worrying jigsaw is falling into place.

Indeed. And it's a transparently obvious one, too, regardless who perpetrated the attack.