BEIRUT

Middle East

Israeli attack in Syria will increase regime’s popularity

A soldier loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad holds a weapon at Darya near Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA on February 4, 2013. REUTERS/SANA/Handout

A Western diplomat said that the recent Israeli attack in Syria did not achieve its aim and was of no use to the Syrian opposition in its current battle to oust the regime of President Bashar Assad.

During a meeting behind closed doors with Lebanese politicians last week, the diplomat said that attacks instigated by Israel or the U.S. would only increase the popularity of the Syrian regime and provide Assad the opportunity to play the victim.

He expressed concern that the alliance between Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah would exploit the Israeli attack to encourage similar attacks on Israeli and Western diplomatic posts in Lebanon.

The diplomat suspected the Israeli attack was a precautionary one, in order to ensure Syrian arms do not fall in the hands of fundamentalist groups fighting with the opposition.

Israel fears these groups will later use these weapons against them in the Golan Heights, as similar incidents took place when confrontations ensued between Israeli soldiers and fundamentalist groups in the Sinai Desert, after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

The diplomat expressed fear over the chaotic flow of arms to Syrian opposition groups, because the final destination of those arms is not known. The decentralized arrangement of the Syrian opposition, who are fighting without a coordinated central command, might result in advanced weapons falling into the hands of groups labeled as “terrorists” by the U.S. and Europe. These arms may also be used by rival groups in the Syrian opposition afterward, when differences in principle become apparent.

The diplomat revealed that Western countries have banned arming Syrian rebels and are advising several Gulf countries to do the same and provide humanitarian assistance solely. He added that the problem lies in the lack of influence over the businessmen who finance and arm Syrian rebels.

The diplomat said his country had received reports in the last week that a spillover of the Syrian crisis into Lebanon may be imminent, especially in the northern districts. These reports, he continued, reveal that some fundamentalist groups might seize gaps in the current security system to assassinate political figures from both March 8 and March 14 alliances. He added that the potential targets would be secondary, not principle figures from the coalitions because they are easier to seek out.

The diplomat feared these attacks would bring about clashes in Tripoli, the Bekaa Valley and Beirut.

He added that statements from experts, describing untraceable assassination plots as the primary concern of Lebanese security, confirm his apprehension. Targeted attacks that are almost impossible to prevent are the primary concern of the Lebanese security, not the village-centered attacks, like the recent one that took place in Arsal.

Army intelligence, the Lebanese Army and the Internal Security Forces information branch are all receiving tips that there might be a plot targeting a “certain figure,” however, they are unable to seek out more details, the diplomat said.

This was also the case with the assassination of Wissam al-Hasan, where security officials knew he was the intended target but could not prevent the attack from taking place.

Lebanese officials present in the meeting also expressed concern over the impending results of an investigation looking into a bomb attack that targeted Israeli tourists in the airport city of Burgas in Bulgaria.

Information received by security officials revealed that the investigation might implicate Hezbollah. This raised fears that Hezbollah might interpret the accusation as a ploy to sabotage their image. Western embassies in Lebanon have already begun to take security precautions as a result.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 05, 2013, on page 3.

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