Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar carried a front-page investigative feature today about the much-discussed deployment of Syrian Army forces on its border with northern Lebanon.
Al-Akhbar, known for its pro-opposition line, interestingly did not seek to sweep aside recent reports claiming that the Syrian troops numbered in the thousands, not hundreds. In fact, the paper’s reporter confirmed that the deployment was considerable, that it involved heavy weaponry and the erection of semi-permanent dwellings for the soldiers. Furthermore, the operation is rumored to be under the command of one of the most important officers in Syria, which further raises doubts that the only thing at stake is “securing the border.”
What does this mean? Is Syria preparing for an invasion of northern Lebanon? Unlikely. Rather, al-Akhbar’s writer concludes, the move is mostly about sending signals, and in multiple directions. (1) To the Lebanese intelligence services, with the goal of re-establishing information sharing between the two countries; (2) To the Syrian troops, who are in need of a morale boost after the frustrating Lebanon debacle; (3) To the international community, demonstrating that Syria is serious about fighting terrorism; (4) And to the troublemakers of north Lebanon, who should need no reminding of how Syria punishes its adversaries.
The sabre is being rattled quietly, then. Meanwhile, 200 km to the south, another gauntlet has been thrown down by Lebanon’s other neighbor, also in the name of combatting terrorism and securing a border.
And … don’t forget the message to those who are engaging in daily smuggling of heating oil from Syria to Lebanon.
Syria is losing an estimated 1.2 billion dollars per year through smuggling of its heavily subsidized oil to Lebanon and other neighboring countries.
But smuggling is a handsome business for the army too, if not the bigwigs. A smuggler once told me that on a profit margin of $13 per unit the smugglers make $1. The rest goes to bribes. That was in the north Bekaa.
Any word on who that powerful Syrian officer is? Strikes me as a bit silly (or: intentionally malicious) for the writer to just report that there are rumors, without saying who they are about.
Maybe the troops increase is linked to the naval base Russia has been planing to activate. Sure Russia would want Syria to provide enough “land” security for such base.
Hmmm … interesting idea. I’m surprised nobody else has thought of it
Good to see you, Simo!