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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Game of Death: Syria Orders Ship Carrying Women to Break Gaza Blockade

A Middle East game of death is again being played out after Syrian President Assad issued orders to send a shipload of women to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.

Why is this happening now? No mystery here. The UN team investigating the 2005 explosion that killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has discovered who gave the orders to eliminate the pro-Western Lebanese leader, and those responsible are growing worried that they are soon to be publicly implicated. As reported by Spiegel in May:

"In late 2005, an investigation team approved by the United Nations and headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis found, after seven months of research, that Syrian security forces and high-ranking Lebanese officials were in fact responsible for the Hariri murder. Four suspects were arrested. But the smoking gun, the final piece of evidence, was not found.

. . . .

But now there are signs that the investigation has yielded new and explosive results. SPIEGEL has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn. Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah ("Party of God") that planned and executed the diabolical attack.

. . . .

In months of painstaking work, a secretly operating special unit of the Lebanese security forces, headed by intelligence expert Captain Wissam Eid, filtered out the numbers of mobile phones that could be pinpointed to the area surrounding Hariri on the days leading up to the attack and on the date of the murder itself. The investigators referred to these mobile phones as the 'first circle of hell.'

Captain Eid's team eventually identified eight mobile phones, all of which had been purchased on the same day in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. They were activated six weeks before the assassination, and they were used exclusively for communication among their users and -- with the exception of one case -- were no longer used after the attack. They were apparently tools of the hit team that carried out the terrorist attack.

But there was also a 'second circle of hell,' a network of about 20 mobile phones that were identified as being in proximity to the first eight phones noticeably often. According to the Lebanese security forces, all of the numbers involved apparently belong to the 'operational arm' of Hezbollah, which maintains a militia in Lebanon that is more powerful than the regular Lebanese army.

. . . .

The whereabouts of the two Beirut groups of mobile phone users coincided again and again, and they were sometimes located near the site of the attack. The romantic attachment of one of the terrorists led the cyber-detectives directly to one of the main suspects. He committed the unbelievable indiscretion of calling his girlfriend from one of the 'hot' phones. It only happened once, but it was enough to identify the man. He is believed to be Abd al-Majid Ghamlush, from the town of Rumin, a Hezbollah member who had completed a training course in Iran. Ghamlush was also identified as the buyer of the mobile phones. He has since disappeared, and perhaps is no longer alive.

Ghamlush's recklessness led investigators to the man they now suspect was the mastermind of the terrorist attack: Hajj Salim, 45. A southern Lebanese from Nabatiyah, Salim is considered to be the commander of the 'military' wing of Hezbollah and lives in South Beirut, a Shiite stronghold. Salim's secret 'Special Operational Unit' reports directly to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, 48.",1518,626412,00.html

The Spiegel report, however, is mistaken with regard to one detail: Hezbollah did indeed plan and carry out the assassination, but Hezbollah leader Nasrallah never acts without first receiving instructions from his Syrian and Iranian overlords. Syria's motivation and involvement? As reported by former Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, during Hariri's last meeting with Assad in Damascus, Assad, infuriated by Hariri's efforts to expel the Syrian army from Lebanon, threatened to "crush anyone who tries to oppose our decisions" (

Nasrallah and Assad expect details from the UN investigation to be released shortly and are both concerned by the impact of these revelations on the Lebanese and Arab street. Nasrallah earlier this month sought to create a smokescreen by blaming Israel for Hariri's death (

Assad, however, is attempting a different tactic by sending tomorrow a boat, renamed the Mariam (the "Virgin Mary") for Western consumption, carrying several dozen women and a "symbolic quantity" of aid to break the Gaza blockade. Assad is hoping that an encounter between the Israeli Navy and the Mariam will result in violence, which will inflame the Muslim world and render the UN investigation team's findings inconsequential. You see, Muslims throughout the Middle East can kill their own women with impunity, i.e. honor killings, but heaven help us if Israel should even graze a hair of one of the Mariam's passengers.

Israel's preparations? Netanyahu was the first Israeli prime minister to travel to Greece earlier this week in order to cement opposition to this new attempt to break the Gaza blockade and has obtained much needed support from Greek Cyprus. As reported by Haaretz:

"The ship cannot travel directly to Gaza from Lebanon because Beirut is still technically at war with Israel, forcing the vessel to pass through a third country - in this case, Cyprus - before heading for the blockaded Palestinian territory.

But on Thursday, the Cypriot ambassador to Lebanon told The Associated Press that the boat, the Mariam, will be turned back when it reaches Cyprus."

The Mariam might instead seek to dock in Turkish Cyprus and proceed from there to Gaza.

Is the Israeli military prepared this time with contingency plans? Unfortunately, the IDF has been preoccupied this past week with a much publicized affair involving a forged document pertaining to an imaginary PR campaign for the appointment of the next chief of general staff. We can only hope that this has not distracted the IDF from focusing on more pressing business, including the loading of uranium fuel into the reactor of Iran's Bushehr power plant this weekend.

[Following the refusal of Cyprus to allow the Mariam entry into a Cypriot port, its voyage has been postponed as the organizers seek permission from Greece to make the necessary interim stopover. Now let's see what Netanyahu achieved during his recent visit to Athens.]


  1. Hi, Jeffrey

    The ship will not go:

    Otherwise, it reads as a thriller. I could not imagine that Lebanese security forces can pull such an operation against Hezbollah! Are not they afraid?

    This discovery of circles of cell phones - it seems like a pretty interesting math here. I wonder if they developed and implemented this high-tech counter-intelligence approach themselves.

  2. Thanks, Marina.

    I would not view this investigation as the work of "Lebanese security forces".

    Lebanon is a morass of longstanding feuds, conflicting interests and shifting alliances involving Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Druse and Palestinians. Notwithstanding the danger, there are still those in Lebanon seeking to keep Syria out of their country.

    I should mention that I am deeply troubled by Obama's naive overtures to Assad, which have bolstered Assad's confidence, and by the alleged friendship that has arisen between Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Assad. As was reported in a Washington Post column by David Ignatius:

    "According to Syrian diplomatic sources, Kerry and Syrian President Bashar Assad have been developing a relationship of 'respect and friendship,' including a long private dinner between the two men and their wives at the Narenj restaurant in the old city of Damascus when Kerry was there in March."