Syria's Secret Surrogate

Fatah al-Islam, a Palestinian Islamist group, has been waging an uprising in Lebanon which has attracted huge media coverage. Most journalists identify this group with al-Qaida or are just plain confused as to its identity. In fact, what is happening is a major deception operation by Syria, a rather typical case of how radical forces in the region fool the West, score against their adversaries, and avoid any retaliation for their deeds.

Let's first describe the story briefly, then explain the motives and proof

behind it. An outline goes like this:

Step 1: Syria wants to sponsor violence and terrorism in Lebanon to bring that country back under its control and intimidate the Lebanese from supporting an international tribunal to investigate and punish those responsible for murdering Lebanon's most popular politician, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 bystanders on February 14, 2005. Since all the evidence points at Syria's leaders as the murderers, killing the investigation is their highest priority. The timing of this uprising came at the very moment that the UN Security Council was voting to hold the tribunal

Step 2: Organize and order a shadowy group of terrorists, called Fatah

al-Islam, to disrupt Lebanon.

Step 3: And this is the scheme's most clever part, blame the terrorism on your victim, Lebanon's own government, and your enemy, the United States. Get some gullible or ideologically inclined journalists to talk to Syrian officials, be fed this line, and then spread it throughout the world.

So how do we know that the uprising in the Palestinian camp of Nahr al-Bared in northern Lebanon, which killed well over 100 people and led the Lebanese army to shell the camp, was a Syrian operation?

Well, first, the group itself Fatah al-Islam, is merely part of an older group, Fatah al-Intifada which has been a Syrian front group for almost 25 years. That is a rather strong hint of whose these people are and from where their pay and arms come. But there is much more.

The leader of this group is a man by the name of Colonel Abu Khaled al-Amleh. And he lives and operates out of Damascus, Syria. The Syrians do not let terrorist groups function in the country unless the regime likes them and finds them useful. That is also a major piece of evidence. But we are just getting started.

The field commander of the group is a man named Shaker al-Absi. He has been working as a Syrian agent since 1983. In 2003, Absi joined the insurgency in Iraq against the Western forces there. Of course, Syria is the insurgency's main sponsor. Hundreds of fighters cross the Syria-Iraq border, reportedly there is a special government bus that takes them to a good jumping-off point. This record reinforces the idea that Absi is working for Syria.

In Iraq, Absi worked with Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaida-Usama bin Ladin's group-there. There is no inconsistency here. After all, when Syria helps the insurgency, most of the forces they assist are led by al-Qaida. While al-Qaida is by no means controlled by Syria, the radical duo has some common interests.

Mr. Absi was involved in the murder of a U.S. diplomat, Lawrence Foley, in Jordan on October 28, 2003. Naturally, the Jordanians wanted Syria to extradite him so he could be questioned and punished. Syria refused, clearly because its regime would not benefit from having Absi tell what he knew, especially about Syria's own role in his activities. In 2004, Jordan sentenced Absi to death in absentia.

So instead of turning him over to Jordan, the Syrian authorities announced

that they were going to punish Absi themselves. Accordingly, they claimed

Absi was sentenced to three years imprisonment for his violent actions in

their own country. Three years is a joke. Terrorists who attack the Syrian

regime are put to death or given very long sentences. Often, they happen to

die conveniently in a manner that used to be described as "shot while trying

to escape."

And of course there is no evidence that Absi was ever in prison and

certainly not for three years since only two years later he is back in

business as a terrorist. For all we know during this period in between he

was living very nicely and engaged in training himself and others.

On being "released," in November 2005, Absi comes back to Syria and goes to

Lebanon. Again, if the Syrian government thought he would do anything

against their interests there he would not have been allowed to go so easily

and conveniently. Immediately, Absi "split" his old group and began Fatah

al-Islam. The ideology of the group, merging Arab nationalism and Islamism,

is very much in line with Syria's current political doctrine.

Within Lebanon today, independent and pro-government newspapers have run

detailed articles about Absi, his Syrian credentials, and the motives of

Damascus for bashing Lebanon. Since Hariri's murder three years ago, there

have been 15 major terrorist attacks, mostly aimed at assassinating critics

of Syrian attempts to dominate Lebanon. There is a pattern here.

Meanwhile, Syrian officials have been briefing some Western journalists, who

know no Arabic and have no serious background in studying the Middle East.

They tell these people that Fatah al-Islam is a front for Lebanon's

government and even the United States. There is no evidence that this is

true. What is telling is that the articles published use precisely the same

phrases employed by Syrian officials about 48 hours earlier.

The situation in Lebanon is complicated. But the majority of Lebanese want

their country to be independent. They suffered under 20 years of Syrian

occupation which looted the country and repressed its people systematically.

The moderate, democratic leadership needs and deserves Western support

against a terrorist offensive directed by the neighboring dictatorship. It

would be a pity to be fooled, by such transparent schemes as the Fatah

al-Islam affair, into supporting the oppressors.

Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs

(GLORIA) Center, has written and edited 50 books on the Middle East. His

latest book, %%AMAZON=1403982732 The Truth About Syria%%, has just been published by

Palgrave-Macmillan.