Daily Israel Report

Lebanon Cannot Get Its Story Right on Arms to Syria

Lebanon is trying to stay out of the Syrian troubles, but Syria and Hizbullah are allies and the latter backs Syria's propaganda line.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 12/30/2011, 4:45 AM

The Assad regime in Syria has long ignored Lebanese sovereignty and used the porous Syrian Lebanese border as a conduit for smuggling arms to Damascus' allies in Lebanon and most notably the Hizbullah.

There is therefore an element of poetic justice to hear the Assad regime blaming Lebanon for allowing Al Qaeda terrorists to infiltrate Syria via Lebanon.

Syria has blamed Al Qaeda for the double car bomb attack last Friday that killed 44 people and wounded more than 100. The Syrian opposition accuses the Assad regime of staging the atrocity to backstop its claim that it was fighting international Islamic terrorism rather than dissidents.

Lebanon's problem is complicated by the fact that his cabinet is dominated by Assad's Hizbullah allies. This gave rise to a comic exchange when the Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn said last week that al Qaeda insurgents were operating on the border disguised as Syrian opposition activists.

Syria's envoy to Beirut picked up Ghosn's accusation and urged the Lebanese government to crack down on cross-border arms smuggling that aided and abetted the terrorism.

In an interview with the Hizbullah-run website Al-Intiqad, Ambassador Ali Abdelkarim Ali urged Lebanon to initiate"serious, strict measures to end arms smuggling from Lebanon into Syria."

The interior minister then contradicted his defense minister, denying the presence of al Qaeda in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati tried to reconcile the two positions by saying that there was no evidence that al Qaeda militants were operating in Lebanon "It's not the first time there are differences of opinions inside the government," he said. "The interior minister said he had no information. The defense minister said he had some information but not complete proof."

The area named by Ghosn and Syria as the smuggling center into Syria is Aarsal, adjacent to the Syrian city of Homs. Aarsal is loyal to opposition leader Rafiq Hariri. In general, the Sunni north of Lebanon supports the Sunnis against the Alawite clan of Bashar Assad.

Lebanon's Western-backed opposition denounced Ghosn as a "minister for the defense of the Assad regime" for his accusations and claimed that Syria had violated Lebanese sovereignty by firing at refugees fleeing the Assad crackdown and condemned the government for doing nothing.

MP Ahmad Fatfat of Hariri's Future Bloc said on Thursday that “the army is present [in the northern town of Akkar], but not present directly at the border with Syria, which means that there is no [political] decision for it to be deployed there.”

Fatfat told Future News TV that “the only beneficiary of the chaos [at the border] is the Syrian regime.”

In an interesting twist, he claimed that just as South Lebanon spawned a "resistance" against Israel it was necessary to do the same against Assad.