Across the Bay

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Transferring the Yakhont to Hezbollah

After meeting with Sec. Clinton on Monday, Syria's Walid Moallem came out with a brazen interview in the WSJ that trashed every single US item of concern. Most remarkable was his denial that Syria was passing weapons on to Hezbollah. Well, the newspaper owned by his boss's cousin says different. In fact, the Syrians have all but admitted their intention to pass along the Russian Yakhont anti-ship missile to the Shiite militia. I discuss that in my column today:

The first report came out in the Kuwaiti al-Rai in April, around the time when the story of Syria’s smuggling of Scuds to Hezbollah was still raging, along with assessments of growing military integration between Syria and Hezbollah in preparation for the next war with Israel.

The authors of the al-Rai report, known for their access to Hezbollah sources, quoted Syrian sources in laying out the shape of the military response to any Israeli attack against Syria. One element in this so-called “Syrian scenario” described in the report is of relevance here. It claimed that “Syria has prepared plans to hit the entire Israeli coast in case of a war against Lebanon and Syria, and Syria will use ground-to-sea missiles as well as imposing a blockade against Israeli naval targets, military and non-military, in order to shut down all Israeli ports.”

The report concluded with the Syrian sources warning Israel about the potency of the “unified military efforts” of the Syrian leadership and Hezbollah.

The theme of naval targets surfaced again about a month later in Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s “Liberation Day” speech. Nasrallah essentially echoed verbatim the Syrian claim reported in al-Rai, contending that his group possessed the capability to hit “all military, civilian and commercial ships” heading to “any port on the Palestinian coast from north to the south,” even threatening to target the port of Eilat on the Red Sea.

Then came the clincher. Immediately after Nasrallah’s speech, it was none other than the Syrian daily al-Watan, owned by Bashar al-Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, which offered the exclusive and detailed interpretation of what Nasrallah was referring to in his speech.

The paper’s report, headlined “Hezbollah possesses ground-to-sea missiles with a 300 km range,” described that the new missile was not the C-802, which Hezbollah had used to hit the Israeli Sa’ar warship, the Hanit, during the 2006 war. Rather, the new missile, according to “impeccable information” obtained by al-Watan, had a range of 300 kilometers, and covers the entire Israeli coastline.

Of course, it is precisely the Yakhont missile that has that range, as well as the capacity to carry a 200 kg warhead. In other words, the Syrians, by putting out an exclusive report, in their own media (and not through a leak to a Gulf newspaper, as is often the case), ahead of everyone else, were sending an unambiguous message regarding their intentions.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Musa Sadr and the Islamic Republican Party

My column this week is on Musa Sadr's disappearance in Libya 32 years ago. I briefly note a couple of quotes by some authors about the possible role played by Khomeini and some of his lieutenants in the disappearance, while exploring the politics and history behind it.

Of course, there's much more. For instance, Dick Norton, whom I reference in the piece, cites in his book on Amal "one of al-Sadr's close associates, a man who was directly involved in investigating the disappearance, who believes that the imam was murdered as a result of a Syrian-Libyan-Iranian plot. ... According to the former associate, it was the Syrians, and particularly Foreign Minister Khaddam, who urged al-Sadr to accept the Libyan invitation..."

Other accounts claim that it was the Algerians who made the suggestion for Sadr to visit Libya in order to clear the air with the Libyans, whose media organs in Lebanon had been attacking Sadr incessantly. Of course, the Libyans, the Syrians, the Algerians and the PLO were the only Arab actors whose support the new Islamic regime in Iran was able to secure at the time.

You can also consult Peter Theroux's The Strange Disappearance of Imam Moussa Sadr for more. For instance, he references an article in An-Nahar that is relevant to my piece:

"The Sadr Brigades Organization [formed by the Imam's sister to avenge his disappearance] has revealed the following...

A certain Jalaleddine Farsi, who had run for president in Iran, then withdrawn his candidacy, as his great-grandfather was of Afghani origin, thus rendering him ineligible, by the terms of the Iranian constitution, and the late Muhammad Saleh Husseini, then Imam Khomeini's Mideast representative and director of Islamic liberation movements, met on August 26, 1978, with Major General Saleh Abu Shereida, chief of Libyan Intelligence and close confidant of Qaddafi at the Beirut International Hotel.

Abu Shereida had entered Lebanon that same day on a forged Moroccan passport. He had a lengthy meeting with the two men and left Beirut on the morning of August 28.

That afternoon, Husseini met an Amal official he knew slightly and told him, 'I'm heading to Libya -- is there anything I can do for you there?' 'No, have a good trip and give my regards to Imam Sadr,' was the reply. Husseini answered, 'Whatever you say, but you might as well know your friend isn't coming back.'

On the evening of August 27, 1978, Husseini and Farsi flew to Libya. We have documentary evidence that proces the two were among the kidnappers of the Imam and his companions, and thought it right to share it with the masses and the officials of the Islamic Republic.

Farsi [whose father, actually, was of Afghan origin] and Husseini were two figures in the Islamic Republican Party who were particularly close to Arafat's Fateh movement and allied with Mohammad Montazeri. Farsi in particular became a strong critic and enemy of Sadr and his ally in the Iranian regime, Mostafa Chamran. The mention of these two figures in particular by Musa Sadr's entourage works well with the thrust of my article and with the argument about the involvement of Iranian cadres close to the Libyans and the Palestinians.