August 1, 2006

Strange Bedfellows

In the next few days, it is expected that the Israel Defense Force will move across the Lebanese border in force and move to the Litani River (about 20 miles north of the border), hoping to consolidate positions prior to the introduction of an international force.

Senior Israeli officials speaking privately tell me they believe they have tacit approval from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to conduct these operations without fear of a military reaction. That leaves Syria as the lone Arab "confrontation state" that opposes the Israeli move.

Yesterday Syrian president Bashar Al-Asad raised the readiness rate of his armed forces. The Israelis believe that some Syrian units have begun moving out of garrison - the Israelis have excellent surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in southern Syria where the bulk of the Syrian armed forces are deployed. It would be interesting to know the status of Syria's SS-21 and Scud-C ballistic missile units. In any case, the Syrian forces are no match for the Israelis.

Also in the "strange bedfellows" department, the Iranian foreign minister flew to Damascus for meetings with his Syrian counterpart - that itself is not strange. He also went to Beirut to meet with his Lebanese counterpart - also not strange. After all, Iran is Hizballah's primary sponsor. Almost all of Hizballah's money, weapons and training originates in Iran, delivered via Syria.

What is strange is the presence of the French foreign minister in Beirut and the meeting between the French and Iranian ministers. I assume they were discussing Hizballah's terms to accept an international force. Syria, another patron of Hizballah, has already stated that an international force will be treated as "occupiers."