Lebanese media has reported that Syria is massing still more troops on the Syrian-Lebanese border. The move is part of a Syrian effort to rebuild its position in Lebanon.
Syria is reportedly massing more troops along the Lebanese border, according to various Lebanese news agencies. The Arab daily Al Hayat reported Oct. 8 that the Syrian army had deployed tanks to the border town of Al Qaa along Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. Eyewitness reports from the area said the Syrian army has dug trenches and erected earthen barriers. The reported troop buildup comes in the wake of an additional Syrian massing of 10,000 troops on the northern Syrian-Lebanese border near the Lebanese city of Tripoli, which began more than two weeks ago.
As Stratfor previously has discussed, the Syrian government is signaling Lebanon and the international community that it is prepared to reassert Syria's physical presence in its Western neighbor. Part of the Syrian plan is to use its covert assets and militant proxies in northern Lebanon to instigate clashes in Tripoli, thereby justifying a Syrian military intervention. Damascus' show of force has set off alarm bells in Saudi Arabia and among Lebanon's anti-Syrian March 14 coalition, which greatly fears having the Syrians re-assume the powerbroker status that they held in Lebanon prior to the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik
But no group is perhaps more scared by the sight of Syrian forces on the border than Hezbollah, which has seen its relationship with Syria disintegrate following the February assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah. This latest Syrian military buildup is quite significantly on the edge of Hezbollah's main stronghold, the Bekaa Valley.
So far, Hezbollah has remained silent on the matter. The group cannot endorse Syrian efforts to enter Lebanon because it knows it will soon be victimized by the Syrians. Conversely, it cannot condemn Syrian efforts because the falling out between Damascus and the Shiite militant groups has not yet fully come out in the public domain.
Syrian tanks are in close proximity to Al Qaa, a Maronite village from which Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea draws many recruits. Deploying troops next to this village not only undermines Hezbollah security, it also points to Syrian fears that Lebanese forces may be planning an offensive against the Mirada militia of Suleiman Franjiyye, who is one of Syria's closest allies in Lebanon.
Syria continues to assert that the troop buildup is simply its way of watching out for its own security, particularly in the wake of a Sept. 27 car bombing in Damascus and recent clashes in Tripoli (even though many of the clashes in Tripoli have been instigated by perpetrators on the payroll of Syrian intelligence). Damascus intends to show the world that Syria, as well as the Lebanese army, is a victim of terrorism from Lebanon. As the militant threat in Lebanon appears to grow larger (with the aid of the Syrians), Syria will gradually build a case for intervention, much like they
did in 1975, after which Syria eventually received a green light from the Israelis and the Americans to enter Lebanon in 1976. Though the general fear in the region is that Syria is on the verge of rolling troops into Lebanon, sources in the region claim that Syria plans to take its time, gradually build a case for intervention and reclaim its position in Lebanon by spring 2009.
In the meantime, Syria can also see what comes out of peace talks with Israel once the Israeli government sorts out its political issues at home.
Without a doubt, Syria's moves have Iran on edge, as Tehran's main militant proxy in the Levant is under threat. The United States has been the most vocal in its opposition to the Syrian military buildup, revealing an apparent divide between Israel and the United States over the merits of having the Syrians "impose stability" in Lebanon. Whereas Israel is more inclined toward negotiations with Damascus to secure Israel's northern frontier and contain the threat from Hezbollah, the U.S. administration is much more reluctant to have Syria re-empowered in Lebanon.
The Syrians may be on a longer timetable than previously expected, but that will do little to calm the fears of those in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United States who want to keep Syrian influence curtailed. Without having made any big, overt moves into Lebanon yet, the Syrians have not run a major risk of provoking these powers into acting against Damascus.
Instead, Damascus is more focused on preparing the world for what it sees as an inevitable Syrian return to Lebanon.