July 9, 2007

Syria Invades Lebanon

By Michael J. Totten

A few days ago Lebanese daily newspaper Al Mustaqbal quietly reported a limited Syrian invasion of Lebanon. (Via Naharnet.)
Syrian troops on Thursday reportedly have penetrated three kilometers into Lebanese territories, taking up positions in the mountains near Yanta in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

The daily Al Mustaqbal, citing sources who confirmed the cross-border penetration, did not say when the procedure in the Fahs Hill overlooking Deir al-Ashaer in the Rashaya province took place.

The sources said Syrian troops, backed by bulldozers, were fortifying positions “in more than one area” along the Lebanese border, erecting earth mounds and digging “hundreds” of trenches and individual bunkers.
This happened immediately before I left town for two days. When I returned I was surprised to find no mention of this whatsoever anywhere else in the media. I assumed the story had to be false. How could Syria invade three kilometers into any region of Lebanon without triggering a diplomatic and media storm?

So I asked Michael Young, opinion page editor at Beirut’s Daily Star, if the story was bogus.

“It is true,” he said, “but the problem is that the 3 kilometers are in isolated areas, so that it isn't making headlines. However, the UN will be discussing border issues this week, I think, and that will be brought up. The Syrians are ratcheting up the pressure, but with the attack against UN troops in the south, they are, as one UN official put it, playing with fire.”

If Israel sent the IDF three kilometers into Lebanon and started digging trenches and building bunkers it would make news all over the world. But Syria does it and everyone shrugs. Hardly anyone even knows it happened at all.

Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question?

Meanwhile, the Syrian government is evacuating its citizens from Lebanon in advance of…something they expect to happen after July 15, 2007.

It’s going to be an interesting summer.

Postscript: Later today I am flying to Kuwait and should be in Iraq by the end of the week. Keep watching this space for first-person narrative journalism from Baghdad, Anbar Province, and hopefully Baqubah.

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 9, 2007 12:06 AM
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