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Thursday, 3 March 2016

Syria: A Turkish-Saudi Countermove In Lebanon Threatens Latakia (Updated)

Updated below

Fabrice Balanche is a French professor and a specialist on Syria’s political geography. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute (formerly WINEP) which is part by the U.S. Zionist lobby. So far the writings of Balanche for WINEP have been rather sane, neutral analyses.
In a piece published on February 5 he looked at the situation after the Syrian campaign cut the northern insurgency supply line to Turkey. At the end Balanche muses about possible countermoves by the Turkish and Saudi supporters of the insurgency:
Yet Turkey and Saudi Arabia may not remain passive in the face of major Russian-Iranian progress in Syria. For example, they could set up a new rebel umbrella group similar to Jaish al-Fatah, and/or send antiaircraft missiles to certain brigades. Another option is to open a new front in northern Lebanon, where local Salafist groups and thousands of desperate Syrian refugees could be engaged in the fight. Such a move would directly threaten Assad’s Alawite heartland in Tartus and Homs, as well as the main road to Damascus. Regime forces would be outflanked, and Hezbollah’s lines of communication, reinforcement, and supply between Lebanon and Syria could be cut off. The question is, do Riyadh and Ankara have the means and willingness to conduct such a bold, dangerous action?
Some Turkish, Saudi or CIA strategist may have had the same thought, or may have taken up Balanche’s idea:
Cargo ship from Turkey full of weapons seized by Greek authoritiesAccording to Greek and Turkish sources, a cargo ship containing thousands of weapons, ammunition, and explosives was seized by Greek authorities on February 28th. The ship– sporting a Togo flag– had reportedly left a Turkish port in Izmir and was traveling to Lebanon as well as the southeastern African coast.
The above source is not always reliable, but Elijah J. Magnier, reporting from Syria for the Kuwaiti paper AL RAI, just confirmed the news:
Elijah J. Magnier @EjmAlrai
#BreakingNews: Fuelling Lebanon?
#Greece arrest crew of a ship 6 #Syria/n, 4 #India/n 1 #Lebanese carrying weapons from #Turkey to #Lebanon.The ship was carrying 6 containers of which 2 full of weapons designated to a harbour in #Lebanon, intercepted at #Greece Crete #Island.
Very alarming indeed & shows a possible escalation planned n #Lebanon when the #SaudiArabia / #Hezbollah/#Iran relationship is at its worse.
This indicates that #Lebanon is no longer outside the circle of the war in #Syria and is supposed to be dragged in
It is unlikely that this is a purely Turkish operation. The Saudis do have enormous influence in Lebanon due to their frequent bribes paid to the various actors there. The general Saudi influence is now somewhat diminished. None of the major Lebanese followed the Saudi’s demand to take its side and to seek conflict with Syria or Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia party that supports the Syrian government. But there are still groups in Lebanon, especially Salafis, which the Saudis essentially command.
A few weeks ago a Saudi prince was imprisoned in Lebanon after being caught loadingtwo tons of amphetamine Captagon pills onto his private plane. There are also rumors that the Saudis recently found a video which showed Hizbullah operators training Yemeni Houthis in intelligence matters. This was seen as a direct attack on Saudi interests. The Saudis cut $4 billion of Saudi paid French weapon aid they had promised to the Lebanese military. A week ago they warned all their citizens to leave Lebanon.
The now caught ship is likely the result of Saudi and Turkish cooperation. The idea is reckless as it could throw Lebanon back into the terrible years of the Lebanese civil war. But the idea is also very bold which lets me believe that its origin is neither Saudi nor Turkish.
The weapon ship may not have been the only or the first one. It is quite possible that some weapons have already reached the Sunni quarters of Tripoli in north Lebanon. In 2012 some fierce fighting erupted between the Alawite enclave in Tripoli and some Sunni neighborhoods. Then the Lebanese army intervened to calm the fighting down.
With weapons for some 10,000 men and lots of dollars to pay them, a serious threat to the soft underbelly of Syria could be implemented within a few weeks. An attack from the Tripoli area northward into Latakia would open a new dangerous front against the Syrian government. Hopefully the Syrian government and Hizbullah are prepared to squelch such a campaign in its infancy.
Stratfor, a private U.S. intelligence service, distributed this claim today:
A Sunni politician in Lebanon tells Stratfor that the Saudi government wants to build a Sunni anti-Hizbullah militia by providing for Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon.
The sourcing is fishy – “According to a Sunni politician …  Saudi Arabia is reportedly …”. Why does Startfor need a politician to tell them that something is “reported” somewhere. Why not source to the original report?
Is this all a “Plan B” head fake to gain some leverage for negotiations? Or is this a real program?
Posted by b on March 1, 2016 at 10:06 AM | Permalink
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