Across the Bay

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Assad's Medicine

A strong editorial in the Washington Post in response to the unbelievable chutzpah of the terrorist Syrian regime's apparatchiks:

IT WAS interesting to observe the wails of outrage from Syrian officials yesterday following a raid on a target near the country's border with Iraq, carried out by helicopter-borne U.S. commandos. "Criminal and terrorist aggression," charged Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem. "The law of the jungle," bemoaned spokesman Jihad Makdissi at the Syrian Embassy in London. This from a regime whose most notable activities of the past few years have been the serial assassination of senior Lebanese politicians, including former prime minister Rafik Hariri; the continuous and illegal supplying of weapons to the Hezbollah militia for use against Israel and Lebanon's democratic government; the harboring in Damascus of senior leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups; and -- most relevant -- the sheltering of an al-Qaeda network that dispatches 90 percent of the foreign fighters who wage war against U.S. troops and the Iraqi government.

The logic of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad seems to be that his regime can sponsor murders, arms trafficking, infiltrations and suicide bombings in neighboring countries while expecting to be shielded from any retaliation in kind by the diplomatic scruples of democracies. For most of this decade that has been lamentably true: U.S. commanders and Iraqi officials have over and over again pointed to the infiltration of al-Qaeda militants through the Damascus airport and the land border with Iraq, and Syria's refusal to curtail it, without taking direct action. Yet in the past year Israel has intervened in Syria several times to defend its vital interests, including bombing a secret nuclear reactor. If Sunday's raid, which targeted a senior al-Qaeda operative, serves only to put Mr. Assad on notice that the United States, too, is no longer prepared to respect the sovereignty of a criminal regime, it will have been worthwhile.
What Damascus should not be allowed to do is reap the diplomatic and economic rewards of a rapprochement while continuing to plant car bombs, transport illegal weapons and harbor terrorists. Israel has let Mr. Assad know that it is prepared to respond to his terrorism with strikes against legitimate military targets. Now that the United States has sent the same message, maybe the dictator at last will rethink his strategy.


The mendacious court jester over at Tishreen Comment is doing what he does best: lie, lie, then lie some more. The latest blatant lie involves this regime poodle's spin campaign targeting Gen. Petraeus and the Syrian sponsorship of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

In a post yesterday, the Oklahoma Tishreen wrote the following:

This hack is claiming that Gen. Petraeus said that it was the Syrians who were responsible for the reduction in the infiltration of foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq. To that effect, the actual text of the LAT report was intentionally distorted by inserting an edit -- [Syrian] -- that was not in the original.

It was nothing but a straight-out brazen lie. Here's what the original actually says:

Military units in Iraq have focused on shutting down the "rat lines" that shuttled militants from the Syrian border to the city of Ramadi and on to Baghdad.

This month Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former top commander in Iraq, said those efforts had helped cut the number of foreign fighters crossing the Syrian border from about 100 to 20 a month. But he made it clear that more needed to be done.

Very clearly, Gen. Petraeus made no positive reference whatsoever to the Syrians in any way, shape or form. Clearly, "those efforts" refer to the "[m]ilitary units in Iraq" (emphasis mine). For more Gen. Petraeus on Syria, see this post of mine from September of 2007.

In fact, reading what Maj. Gen. John Kelly, Commander of the Multinational Force-West, said a few days ago (H/T Bill Roggio), you'd know that the US military holds a very different view on Syria's behavior (emphasis mine):

The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side. We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement, not much, through Anbar because of our activities out there, with the police and with the Iraqi army and with the Iraqi border forces, so less and less of that kind of thing coming through.

But we do know that there are operatives that live, we believe, certainly -- let me say, the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi intelligence forces feel that al Qaeda operatives and others operate, live pretty openly on the Syrian side. And periodically we know that they try to come across.

This [regime clown's] astounding dishonesty, blatant lying and shameless shilling on behalf of the al-Qaeda-sponsoring regime in Syria never cease to amaze. As for the rest of his, uh, "analysis," it just highlights how much of a clueless propagandist [bozo] this guy is. I don't know about you, but I don't know many tactical commanders that take orders from the Office of the Vice President over the head of their theater commander. What a total wingnut.

It's just his job, five days a week. A bracket man, a bracket man... Bracket man burning out his fuse out here alone...

Monday, October 27, 2008

US Strike Targeted Abu Ghadiyah?

Addendum: This AP report seems to confirm Bill Roggio's post.

My friend Bill Roggio has the best report so far on the US raid on an al-Qaeda target harbored by Syria:

The US military incursion into Syria was aimed at the senior leader of al Qaeda's extensive network that funnels foreign fighters, weapons, and cash from Syria into Iraq, a senior intelligence official told The Long War Journal.

US special operations hunter-killer teams entered Syria in an attempt to capture Abu Ghadiya, a senior al Qaeda leader who has been in charge of the Syrian network since 2005. US intelligence analysts identified Ghadiya as the leader of the Syrian network, The Washington Post reported in July. Ghadiya was identified as a “major target” by the US military in February 2008.

The raid to capture Ghadiya occurred in the town of Sukkariya near Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, just five miles from the Iraqi border. Four US helicopters crossed the border and two of the helicopters landed to drop off special operations forces, who then proceeded to clear structures.
US officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not comment if Ghadiya was killed or captured during the raid.

The US military has officially refused to confirm or deny the raid took place. But several senior intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject told The Long War Journal that the raid was indeed carried out inside Syria.
The cross-border raid took place just three days after Major General John Kelly, the commander of Multinational Force - West, said Syria is "problematic." Kelly said the Syrian the government refused to secure the border and al Qaeda operatives are openly working inside Syria.

"The Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi intelligence forces feel that al Qaeda operatives and others operate, live pretty openly on the Syrian side," Kelly said. "And periodically we know that they try to come across."
The military is also rebuilding a berm along the Syrian border in an effort to stop infiltration into Iraq from Syria. "We're doing much more work along the Syrian border than we've done in the past," Kelly said.

Bill goes on to discuss details of Syria's sponsorship of al-Qaeda, a theme that my regular readers are familiar with, and which I've addressed recently as well.

PS: On a separate note, Bill and I had recently worked on a batch of intercepted letters from al-Qaeda leaders on the current state of the organization in Iraq. You can check Bill's post on that here, and my translation of the documents here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hezbollah's "Pure" Money

Nasrallah wasn't joking when, back in 2006, he spoke of the party's access to "pure" money. Pure Colombian cocaine, that is (LAT report, here):

Reuters on Tuesday also reported Colombian authorities as saying they “broke up a drug and money-laundering ring in an international operation that included the capture of three people suspected of shipping funds to Hezbollah guerrillas.”

Three of those arrested were suspected of coordinating the smuggling to send profits to Hezbollah, among other groups, according to the officials.

So much for lack of "global reach" (on Hezbollah's South American operations, see here, and for a background report from June, see here) and the "purity" of Hezbollah's "incorruptible" image, and the "social services network," and its "evolution" to a "political party" and "nationalist insurgency group" and other such brain-numbing, idiotic, pseudo-intellectual diarrhea.

Another entry in the illustrious encyclopedia of cliches on Hezbollah is shown to be the utter trash it always was -- not that it ever stopped the "experts" from regurgitating the party line in full.

Unless you read this blog. Then you'd know better.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Syria and Islamist Terrorism

Hassan Mneimneh's article in The Daily Standard today is well worth reading in full. You will note many points of intersection with arguments I've made here in the past:

Damascus has long epitomized a "nuanced" understanding of Islamist terrorism. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah have earned Syria's endorsement and significant material backing. Similarly, authorities in Damascus have fueled the insurgency in Iraq, a platform championed as praiseworthy "resistance to U.S. occupation." Under the watch of Syria's intelligence services, the most virulent radical jihadist networks have relied on Syria as a thoroughfare through which to channel streams of suicide bombers and other jihadists into Iraq. And while they have vociferously denied official leverage over such networks, Syrian authorities, when exposed, have displayed an astonishing ability to redirect radical jihadists to less conspicuous terrain such as to Northern Lebanon.

Damascus has nurtured jihadism as a bogeyman at home and abroad, an insurance policy against the specter of regime change, and a scapegoat for crimes otherwise traceable to its state security forces.
The Syrian regime perfected its bifurcated approach to Islamist militancy over the course of its decades-long occupation of Lebanon. Groups such as Hezbollah were managed by the dominant Syrian security services. Other factions such as Asbat al-Ansar and the 2000 Dinniyeh group were deemed more useful when employed as proxies from controlled enclaves--Palestinian refugee camps and remote mountain refuges--to be unleashed at key tactical moments. The February 2005 assassination of Syrian rival and former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri occurred in an environment saturated with Syrian services, though in the pro-Syrian narrative it was a crime attributed to a jihadist cell.
In the Syrian government's lengthy record of employing radical jihadism, it has deemed the repercussions of this approach counterproductive only when its interests have in turn been targeted. And even then, attacks inside Syria have been intentionally recycled to tighten the regime's grip on Syrian society and to underline Syria's notional role in fighting global terrorism.
And what do all these machinations matter to Washington? Assad and his circle see a possible rapprochement with the United States playing into a new role for the regime: partnership in the war on terror. But Condoleezza Rice, her employees and her successors should remember that as Syria turns the full force of its tyrannical regime on one jihadist enemy, reinserting itself into the frail democracy that is Lebanon, it will continue to nurture Hamas, Hezbollah, and others who are little different. Syria's choice should be simple: an end to support for all terrorism and respect for Lebanon's independence, or America will sit on the sidelines and watch a dictatorship that lived by the sword
die by it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Two American Journalists Detained in Syria

Thankfully, the two missing American journalists have been found. And it turns out, the story is very different from how it's been portrayed for the last few days as somehow having to do with (what else?) "Islamists" in Tripoli.

In fact, they were held by the Syrians for supposedly entering the country without a visa. The Syrians have had them for a bit, it turns out. Usually, they're required to let the American embassy know when they detain American citizens. Instead they let it simmer for days.

More to come.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Making Mischief in Damascus

I'm posting this excellent article by Jonathan Spyer in full (see also my own post along similar lines the other day):

As the days pass since the car bombing in the southern suburbs of Damascus, furious speculation is continuing as to who was responsible.

No organization has taken responsibility - leaving the rumor mill free to grind on.

The Syrian authorities, following an initial attempt to point the finger at Israel, have now concluded that Sunni jihadists carried out the bombing. The Syrian al-Watan newspaper is claiming that the authorities have located and detained members of the cell responsible for the attack. According to al-Watan, none of the individuals being held are Syrian citizens.

The Syrian government may now be expected to cast itself in the role of an ally of the west in the War on Terror. We will be reminded in the coming weeks of the "secular" nature of the Syrian regime. Hafez Assad's fight with the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s will be recalled.

However, the true relationship between the current Syrian regime and the forces of the Sunni jihad is as opaque and ambiguous as might be expected from the Assad regime.

A Federal District Court in Washington DC last week issued an opinion in favor of the plaintiffs in a case brought against Syria by relatives of Jack Armstrong and Jack Hensley.

Armstrong and Hensley were US civilian engineers who were kidnapped and beheaded in Iraq in 2004 by the al-Tawhid wal-Jihad organization. This group, headed at the time by the Jordanian Islamist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is also known as "al-Qaida in Iraq."

The court found evidence of substantial assistance given by Syria to this organization.

Syrian assistance to Zarqawi included providing him with a Syrian passport. The court found that Syria acted as a "logistical hub" for al-Qaida in Iraq, providing safe haven for training activities and facilitating the transport of fighters overland en route to Iraq.

The Zarqawi organization planned some of its most notorious operations from Syrian soil. These included the murder of American diplomat Lawrence Foley in Jordan in 2002, and a failed plot in 2004 to destroy Jordanian intelligence headquarters using a chemical weapon. The latter operation, if it had succeeded, would have resulted in tens of thousands of fatalities.

The court found that Syrian President Bashar Assad personally appointed the head of the Iraqi Ba'ath party, Fawzi al-Rawi, to meet with Zarqawi's lieutenants to discuss operations against the Americans.

Rawi, who drew a Syrian government salary, was also responsible for channelling funds to al-Qaida in Iraq.

A Salafi preacher, Abu Qaqa'a, who was also a Syrian government employee, was permitted to conduct recruiting activities for al-Qaida in Syria. In addition, training camps were maintained in Syria, according to the testimony of al-Qaida fighters captured by US forces in Iraq.

Senior operatives of the Zarqawi group crossed to their main training camp in Rawha, Iraq, with the assistance of Syrian Military Intelligence officials.

In finding for the plaintiffs, the US District Court ordered Syria to pay them the sum of $412,909,587.

The evidence produced in this trial indicates Syria's willingness to make alliance with jihadi terror groups in the furtherance of its policy goals. The alliance with Zarqawi, of course, was intended to bring about a defeat of the US project in Iraq.

It is also noteworthy that some of the names of the operatives recalled in the trial later surfaced in a different context.

The court notes that the individual responsible for financing the Zarqawi operation to kill US diplomat Lawrence Foley was one Shaker al-Absi, a Palestinian.

Following the murder of Foley, Absi fled to Damascus, from where Syria refused Jordanian requests for his extradition. The court notes that Syria claimed to be holding Absi in custody. In fact, he was running a training camp for fighters bound for Iraq.

Absi then re-surfaced two years later, as the head of the mysterious "Fatah al-Islam" group in the Nahr al Bared refugee camp in Lebanon. This previously unknown organization engaged in a bloody and protracted fight with the Lebanese army in 2007.

At the time, Fatah al-Islam was depicted in the western media as an independent jihadi organization. The evidence now suggests that its leader, in addition to being an operative of the global jihad, was also acting on behalf of the Syrian regime.

A number of Lebanese commentators believe that the latest bombings in Damascus are part of a larger Syrian plan to facilitate a climate whereby Syria may re-introduce its forces into Lebanon, under the pretext of acting to restore order.

It is impossible, of course, to confirm these theories. However, the bomb in Tripoli on Monday, along with the gathering of Syrian forces along the Syrian-Lebanese border indicate that such thoughts should not be dismissed out of hand.

What may be said with certainty is that Syria, which is now seeking to portray itself as the victim and target of Sunni jihadi terrorism, has been an enthusiastic sponsor and supporter of groups belonging to that trend in the very recent past.

Now, it appears, this particular golem has risen against its master. Or has it?

Middle East analyst Fouad Ajami once said that Syria's main asset, which enabled it to play a role in regional affairs out of proportion to its size or wealth, was its "capacity for mischief." Observation of Syrian activities in Iraq and Lebanon over the last half decade indicates that this capacity remains undiminished.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Decoding Moallem's "Security Cooperation"

With every passing day, the Syrian agenda becomes clearer, vindicating the analysis I laid out a couple of days ago regarding Syrian designs and objectives.

Walid Moallem has now formulated (Arabic original here) the practical meaning of the Syrian declarations regarding Lebanon and the alleged (but mythical) "Salafi threat." The formulation is, once again, nothing new and spells the never-ending Syrian quest for forceful domination of Lebanon:

"The question of the border between Syria and Lebanon needs two actions: delineation (of the frontier) and Syrian-Lebanese security cooperation ... Nobody can control the borders with Lebanon."

Decoder, please. The key term here is "security cooperation." Once you understand what this means, the statement's sinister implications become clear. To understand the reference points, whenever you hear that term, "cooperation," uttered by a Syrian official, always think along the lines of the "Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation and Coordination" that the Syrian regime forced upon a vassal Lebanon under the boot of Syrian military occupation in 1991. That Treaty essentially codified the complete Syrian domination and dictating of Lebanese affairs. That's Assad's view of "normal" relations with Lebanon. As he put it earlier in the year, and again to recent visitors, the normal state of these relations, in Assad's mind, is "how they were a few years ago" -- i.e., when Syria military occupied Lebanon.

What Moallem is proposing here is also not new. This is what the one-track minded regime has been trying to impose since its forced withdrawal in 2005. Specifically, this dates back to January 2006.

On January 8, 2006, Assad flew to Jeddah for a meeting with King Abdullah, at the height of the Mehlis probe and request to interrogate the Syrian dictator over the Hariri assassination.

During the talks, Assad presented a series of "proposals" to "reduce tensions" with Lebanon, such as reactivation of the bilateral security committee, coordination on foreign policy, and an end to the Lebanese "media campaign" and "inflammatory statements by politicians." When news of the proposals leaked, Lebanese officials flatly rejected them, while Saudi and Egyptians officials denying any support for them.

In mid-January, the Syrians tried again. Farouq Sharaa gave Saud al-Faysal, who was leading an initiative at the time, a paper with the Syrian demands. First and foremost on that paper was a demand for "security and foreign policy cooperation and coordination."

Lebanese politicians, led by Walid Jumblat, shot down this transparent attempt at reestablishing Syrian hegemony. Jumblat said that what the Syrians were trying to get with this clause of "coordination" was the reinstatement of the Anjar mukhabarat headquarters -- the notorious seat of Gen. Rustom Ghazaleh, where Lebanese politicians were handed threats and orders, and where countless Lebanese were tortured and murdered.

Given that the Syrian intention towards Lebanon has not changed one iota, Moallem now is repeating the same sinister line. This also comes after the Syrians insisted on not abolishing the 1991 Treaty of Cooperation or the Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council which emerged from it -- both symbols of the hated Syrian occupation and plundering of Lebanon, even as they nominally and theoretically accepted the demand to set up an embassy in Lebanon for the first time since independence.

There might be more at play here. Moallem's statements came after two events involving the US and France.

First, during his stay in NY for the UN General Assembly, Moallem insistently requested a meeting with Sec. Rice. She gave him a brief meeting (a public 10-minute chat on the sidelines of an Iftar dinner with Arab Foreign Ministers), which he, and Syria's hounds and poodles predictably then tried to spin out of proportion as a "thaw" in relations and other garbage of that nature.

In reality, however, not only did Rice (and then Welch, in a very short meeting) repeat the exceedingly long list of complaints about subversive Syrian behavior, and delivered a very tough message, but, importantly, they made sure to specifically warn Moallem against any Syrian thought of using the pretext of "Salafist terrorism" in order to intervene militarily in Lebanon.

This was important since all the propaganda campaign regarding the "jihadist threat" in Lebanon was pitched in large part to the US -- in order to revive the old (nothing with the Syrians is new) canard of "intelligence cooperation against terror." (On this see the illustrious garbage of the caricature-thug Imad Mustapha and the geniuszzz Bashar groupie Flynt Leverett, et al.).

It was telling to read how a Syrian source put it to an-Nahar:

Muallem came to tell the United States "in a positive way" Syria's stand on the developments in the region after these developments – and as a result of the U.S. policy – had a "dangerous" effect on more than one country Washington claims to be working to maintain its sovereignty and independence.

Muallem, according to the sources, also came to inform the U.S. administration that terrorism – which the U.S. claims to be fighting -- has reached an extent that requires change in America's strategy in countering terrorism based on "mutual work" with the various victims, including Syria.

The sources stressed that Muallem presented a "reading" that showed the U.S. administration's "fault" in its efforts to weaken Syria "since the beneficiary of weakening Syria is terrorism."

It doesn't get any clearer than this. Plainly, Moallem insisted on meeting Rice in order to try that sales pitch once again, in light of the explosions in Damascus and Tripoli. It's glaringly transparent. And the Syrians got rebuffed and warned not to think of interfering militarily in Lebanon.

The US wasn't alone. In a very important, timely and telling move, the French also issued a number of public statements to three different papers, warning the Syrians on several points, including, specifically, on military incursion in Lebanon (thereby expressing timely unity with the US position):

France on Tuesday has reportedly warned Syria against any military intervention in north Lebanon in the wake of repeated bomb attacks in Damascus and Tripoli.
The daily As Safir, citing French sources, said Paris has advised Syria against allowing recent bomb attacks in Damascus and Tripoli to "affect Syria's commitment to Lebanon or allowing change in French-Syrian priorities that have been agreed on toward strengthening stability in Lebanon."
The source said France is relaying "letters" to Damascus warning it against any intervention "which could take the situation in Lebanon back to square one, in addition to the collapse of the understandings in which a roadmap had been drawn to strengthen stability" in the country.

The reference to the "priorities that have been agreed on" is also significant. It was the subject of another French statement, expressing a growing French impatience with the typical Syrian doublespeak and tricks aimed at avoiding any serious concession on Lebanon:

France believes Syria is stalling in implementing commitments to Lebanon, especially the issue of setting up diplomatic ties, but reassures Beirut that no settlement would be achieved with Damascus at Lebanon's expense.
A ranking French diplomat who accompanied President Nicolas Sarkozy to the United Nations General Assembly deliberations told Naharnet a "sharp pulling of ropes is underway between Paris and Damascus" over implementation of Syria's commitments in Lebanon.

He spoke of a "new" French policy towards Syria, terming it a "new style aimed at implementing the same targets and aims."

France believes Syria is trying to stall on implementing the issue of setting up diplomatic ties with Lebanon by keeping them within the framework of the declaration of principles.

"France wants a quick Syrian shift into practical implementation of the commitment, which is not in line with the Syrian concept outlined by President Bashar Assad who said the issue requires several months and might spread to after New Year," he explained.

Delaying accepting credentials of the new Syrian Ambassador to France was a "clear message by the French administration to Assad" protesting against the delay in setting up diplomatic ties with Beirut, according to the ranking French diplomat.

Accepting credentials of the new Syrian Ambassador to Paris would be "directly linked to practical and tangible (Syrian) steps along the track of setting up diplomatic ties between Damascus and Beirut," he promised.

French sources have confirmed to me that the French position on Syria is hardening, partly as a result of the sharp criticism that followed Sarkozy's trip to Syria.

But the issue of the "priorities" that the Syrians told the French they would do is of significance here, in how it relates to Moallem's statement.

Hence, it is instructive to read what Bernard Kouchner said today regarding the Syrian troop deployment along the Lebanese border:

"I don't know why they deployed these troops. And you [reporters] say 'along the borders.' What borders? There are no [delineated] borders, and they have to be demarcated."

When the Syrians agreed nominally and theoretically ("in principle") to the exchange of embassies (which they followed by a series of demands, conditions and hurdles), they insisted, as I noted above, on retaining the Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council, in a highly telling move.

Now, Moallem has intentionally linked the issue of border demarcation with a "security cooperation" agreement. In other words, he's saying: "you want embassies and border demarcation ("in principle," of course)? Then you need to hand us security and policy domination over Lebanon according to the terms of the 1991 Treaty which we imposed during our occupation. In other words, Anjar redux."

Lastly, Moallem's seemingly laughable comments about arms smuggling to Hezbollah are also an example of Syrian doublespeak. "Nobody can control the borders with Lebanon" is not just an affirmation that Syria will continue to violate the UN Security Council resolutions, and its empty promises to anyone foolish enough to "engage" it, but it also prepares the ground for continued support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups regardless of any future "engagement" or "peace process" or even a theoretical "peace deal," since "nobody can control the border," even as he ties the total political and security domination of Lebanon as conditions for any "engagement" or "peace talks," leaving it up to the sinister, the clueless and the gullible alike to read into this doublespeak what they please.

The bottom line is that Syria is hellbent on redominating Lebanon, by force. That's the meaning of Moallem's statement and the campaign on the heels of the latest explosions. That's why we've maintained over the years that engagement with this regime is a dead end, as the interests are diametrically opposed. To quote from Moallem's own interview, "there is no common ground."