US embassy cable - 90DAMASCUS4736

SYRIA AND THE IQLIM AL TUFFAH FIGHTING

Identifier: 90DAMASCUS4736
Wikileaks: View 90DAMASCUS4736 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Damascus
Created: 1990-08-02 15:03:00
Classification: SECRET
Tags: PREL PGOV SY LE IR
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 021503Z AUG 90
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6643
INFO AMEMBASSY AMMAN
AMEMBASSY CAIRO
AMCONSUL JERUSALEM
AMEMBASSY LONDON
AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
AMEMBASSY PARIS
AMEMBASSY RIYADH
AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
USMISSION USUN NEW YORK
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 DAMASCUS 04736 
 
LONDON FOR MILLIKAN 
PARIS FOR ROSENBLATT 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL: OADR 
TAGS:  PREL PGOV SY LE IR 
SUBJECT:  SYRIA AND THE IQLIM AL TUFFAH FIGHTING 
 
REF:   A)  FBIS NC2907093290 
       B)  DAMASCUS 03433 
       C)  FBIS  NC3007112690 
       D)  DAMASCUS 
       E)  FBIS NC 2607110790 
       F)  DAMASCUS 4694 
       G)  NICOSIA 4983 
       H)  FBIS  NC2907184290 
       I)  NICOSIA 04992 
 
1.  (C)  DAMASCUS HAS ADOPTED A LOW PUBLIC PROFILE ON 
THE AMAL-HIZBALLAH FIGHTING IN THE IQLIM AL TUFFAH, 
DESPITE ITS INTENSITY AND POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES.  SYRIAN 
MEDIA HAS GIVEN LITTLE ATTENTION TO THE BATTLES AND THE 
SARG APPEARS TO BE TAKING FEW, IF ANY, STEPS TO TRY TO 
END IT.  THE FLURRY OF PUBLIC DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITY BETWEEN 
DAMASCUS AND TEHRAN, WHICH FOLLOWED PREVIOUS CLASHES 
BETWEEN THE TWO SHIA' MILITIAS HAS NOT OCCURRED.  UNLIKE 
ITS IRANIAN COUNTERPARTS, THE SARG HAS NOT CALLED FOR A 
CEASE-FIRE AMONG THE COMBATANTS.  DAMASCUS IS SUPPORTING 
THE INTERVENTION OF THE LEBANESE ARMY INTO THE AREA, BUT 
PROBABLY ALSO REALIZES THE LAF CAN DO LITTLE TO STOP THE 
FIGHTING WITHOUT THE ACQUIESCENCE OF BOTH AMAL AND 
HIZBALLAH.  INTERESTINGLY, AN ARTICLE IN AN NAHAR, AN 
INDEPENDENT WEST BEIRUT NEWSPAPER, PORTRAYED THE FIGHTING 
AS AN "UNDECLARED WAR" BETWEEN SYRIA AND IRAN. 
 
--------------------- 
DAMASCUS UNCONCERNED? 
--------------------- 
 
2.  (C)  DAMASCUS HAS PAID LITTLE PUBLIC ATTENTION IN THE 
MEDIA TO THE FIGHTING THUS FAR, FOCUSING INSTEAD ON THE 
HRAWI GOVERNMENT'S JULY 11 PLAN TO IMPLEMENT TA'IF.  THE 
SARG HAS TAKEN NO STEPS AIMED AT HALTING THE FIGHTING. 
EVEN THOUGH, THE FIGHTING IS IN AN AREA OF LEBANON WHERE 
THERE IS NO CONCENTRATION OF SYRIAN TROOPS, DAMASCUS AND 
TEHRAN HAVE BROKERED CEASE-FIRES BETWEEN AMAL AND 
HIZBALLAH PREVIOUSLY.  DAMASCUS PROBABLY DOES PERCEIVE AN 
INTEREST IN STEMMING HIZBALLAH'S ROLE AND ANY GROWTH IN 
INFLUENCE AS A RESULT OF THE FIGHTING.  IRANIAN FORMIN 
VELAYATI CLAIMED IN HIS LETTER TO LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER 
HUSS (REF A) THAT IRAN HAS BEEN IN CONTINUOUS CONTACT AND 
CONSULTATION WITH THE SARG, BUT EMBASSY DAMASCUS HAS 
NOTED A LACK OF PUBLIC DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITY.  WE HAVE 
DETECTED NO SHUTTLING OF IRANIAN OR SYRIAN DIPLOMATS 
BETWEEN THE CAPITALS OR INTO LEBANON TO TALK WITH AMAL 
AND HIZBALLAH OFFICIALS. 
 
3.  (S)  EMBASSY HAS ALSO DETECTED NO ATTEMPT BY THE SARG 
TO STOP THE FLOW OF ARMS TO THE COMBATANTS.  PRESS 
ACCOUNTS INDICATE THAT SOME OF DAMASCUS' OTHER LEBANESE 
SURROGATES, SUCH AS ELIE HUBAYQA, ARE ASSISTING AMAL, 
WHICH PROBABLY INCLUDES SUPPLYING ARMS.  IF THE SYRIANS 
CAN PREVENT THEIR PROXIES FROM SUPPLYING GENERAL AWN AT A 
MOMENT'S NOTICE (REF D), THEY ALMOST CERTAINLY COULD 
EXERT THE SAME INFLUENCE ON THEIR PROXIES WHO ARE 
SUPPLYING AMAL. 
 
4.  (S)  DAMASCUS IS ALSO VOID OF ANY RUMORS HINTING THAT 
THE SYRIANS MAY HAVE CLOSED THE BORDER TO LEBANON TO SHUT 
DOWN THE THE IRANIAN PIPELINE TO HIZBALLAH OR STOPPED THE 
FLOW OF ARMS FROM THE BIQA' TO THE SOUTH.  CONTROL OF 
THESE PIPELINES ARE THE SARG'S PRINCIPAL LEVERAGE OVER 
THE IRANIAN REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS AND HIZBALLAH AND ONE 
THEY HAVE USED DURING PREVIOUS CLASHES BETWEEN AMAL AND 
HIZBALLAH.  EARLIER THIS YEAR, DAMASCUS SHUT THE LEBANESE 
BORDER TO THE IRANIANS IN PART TO PROTEST IRAN'S 
SUPPLYING OF ARMS TO HIZBALLAH.  WHEN THE SARG REOPENED 
IT, IRANIAN REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS AND THEIR SUPPLIES 
ENTERED LEBANON UNDER TIGHTER CONTROLS (REF B).  UNDER 
THESE CONDITIONS, THE SYRIANS SHOULD BE AWARE OF WHAT IS 
CROSSING THE BORDER INTO LEBANON.  (COMMENT:  BECAUSE OF 
ITS CONTROL OVER THE PIPELINE, THE SARG MAY NOT HAVE BEEN 
CAUGHT TOTALLY OFF GUARD BY THE OUTBREAK OF FIGHTING 
SEVERAL WEEKS LATER, REALIZING THAT HIZBALLAH HAD BEEN 
RESUPPLIED.) 
 
5.  (C)  THE SARG HAS ALSO ALLOWED ITS ALLY, AMAL LEADER 
NABIH BERRI TO PUBLICLY CALL FOR THE REMOVAL OF IRANIAN 
FORCES FROM LEBANON.  BERRI HAS MADE SEVERAL STATEMENTS 
OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF MONTHS REITERATING THIS POINT 
WITH LITTLE DETECTABLE REACTION FROM THE SARG.  AMAL 
OFFICIALS HAVE ACCUSED IRANIAN REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS OF 
PARTICIPATING IN THE FIGHTING AND HAVE EVEN BLAMED THEM 
FOR ESCALATING IT (REF C). 
 
---------------------- 
WHAT DAMASCUS HAS DONE 
---------------------- 
 
6.  (C)  THE SARG HAS ANNOUNCED ITS SUPPORT FOR THE 
INTERVENTION OF THE LEBANESE ARMY (LAF) INTO THE IQLIM AL 
TUFFAH IN ORDER TO HALT THE FIGHTING (REF F).  LEBANESE 
ARMY COMMANDER GENERAL LAHUD WAS IN DAMASCUS OVER THE 
WEEKEND MEETING WITH GENERAL SHIHABI, ACCORDING TO 
LEBANESE PRESS REPORTS (REF G).  THE PLAN TO INTERVENE IN 
THE IQLIM FIGHTING PROBABLY WAS A TOPIC OF CONVERSATION, 
ESPECIALLY SINCE THE LAF HAS FEW TROOPS AND WOULD BE HARD 
PRESSED TO GET INVOLVED BOTH IN THE IQLIM AND AID IN THE 
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE JULY 11 PLAN IN BEIRUT. 
 
------------------- 
AN "UNDECLARED WAR" 
------------------- 
 
7.  (U)  AN NAHAR, AN INDEPENDENT WEST BEIRUT NEWSPAPER, 
PUBLISHED AN ARTICLE ON JULY 25 ENTITLED "THE IQLIM AL 
TUFFAH WAR IS BETWEEN SYRIA AND IRAN" (REF E).  THE 
ARTICLE QUOTED SOURCES CLOSE TO DAMASCUS AS SAYING "THE 
FIGHTING...BETWEEN 'HIZBALLAH' AND 'THE AMAL MOVEMENT' IN 
IQLIM AL TUFFAH...IS ACTUALLY AN UNDECLARED WAR BETWEEN 
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN AND SYRIA."  THE SYRIAN 
SOURCES BASED THIS CLAIM ON THREE FACTORS: 
 
-- THE FAILURE OF AN INDIRECT AGREEMENT BETWEEN IRAN AND 
THE U.S., WHICH HAD BEEN BROKERED BY SYRIAN FORMIN 
SHARA', EARLIER THIS YEAR; 
 
-- IRAN'S FEARS OF THE INCREASING PROSPECTS FOR ARAB 
RECONCILIATION; AND 
 
-- HIZBALLAH AND IRAN'S FEARS THAT THEY WILL BE LEFT OUT 
OF THE PLANNING FOR LEBANON'S FUTURE. 
 
8.  (C)  THE ARTICLE ALSO PRESENTS THE IRANIAN VIEWS ON 
WHAT LED TO THE ABOVE PROBLEMS.  THE IRANIAN SOURCES 
BELIEVE THE SYRIAN SPONSORED US-IRANIAN AGREEMENT FAILED 
BECAUSE OF "DAMASCUS' CONNIVANCE WITH WASHINGTON" AND 
DAMASCUS 'S FALLING INTO THE U.S. TRAP AND ITS (DAMASCUS) 
IGNORANCE OF THE FACT THAT "U.S. POLICY TOWARD THE 
IRANIAN ISLAMIC REVOLUTION...HAS NOT CHANGED."  SYRIA'S 
RAPPROCHEMENT WITH EGYPT AND THE NEVERENDING ATTEMPTS TO 
RECONCILE SYRIA AND IRAQ TRIGGERED THE SECOND IRANIAN 
FEAR.  THE JULY 11 PLAN'S EXCLUSION OF THE SOUTHERN 
SUBURBS UNTIL "ALL OBSTACLES, THE MOST IMPORTANT OF WHICH 
ARE THE FUNDAMENTALIST MOVEMENTS, ARE OVERCOME" 
HEIGHTENED THE LAST IRANIAN CONCERN. 
 
9.  (C)  ACCORDING TO THE ARTICLE, IT WAS THE IRANIAN 
FUNDAMENTALIST ANALYSIS OF THE SYRIAN STAND CONCERNING 
LEBANON THAT "PROMPTED THEM (IRAN AND HIZBALLAH) TO 
ESCALATE THE WAR IN THE IQLIM AL -TUFFAH WHERE SYRIA HAS 
NO DIRECT PRESENCE AND WHERE ITS ALLIES CAN NOT STAND 
ALONE AND ... WIN."  THE ARTICLE STATES THE AIM OF THE 
FIGHTING IS TO SEIZE CONTROL OF TERRITORY AND MAKE IRAN 
AND ITS ALLIES HEARD IN LEBANON AND THE REGION. 
(COMMENT:  LEBANESE PRESS HAS REPORTED THAT DAMASCUS HAS 
ASKED THE TRIPARTITE COMMITTEE TO INCLUDE HIZBALLAH IN 
THE EXPANDED LEBANESE CABINET.  THE SARG DID SPECIFY, 
HOWEVER, THAT HIZBALLAH MUST FIRST ACCEPT TA'IF.  IN 
OTHER WORDS, SARG IS DEMANDING THAT HIZBALLAH AND GENERAL 
AWN LIVE UP TO THE SAME CONDITIONS -- AN UNLIKELY 
EVENT.)  (REF I) 
 
10.  (C)  DAMASCUS PROBABLY WILL MAINTAIN ITS PUBLIC 
AMBIVALENCE TOWARDS THE FIGHTING AS LONG AS AMAL HOLDS 
ITS OWN AGAINST HIZBALLAH, WHICH RECENT IRANIAN AND     . 
HIZBALLAH CALLS FOR A CEASE-FIRE SEEM TO INDICATE.  THE 
SARG CAN HIDE ITS INACTION BEHIND THE JUSTIFICATION THAT 
IT HAS NO TROOPS IN THE AREA TO INTERVENE. 
 
- 
11.  (C)  THE CURRENT WILDCARD IS THE POTENTIAL ISRAELI 
REACTION TO THE CONTINUED FIGHTING IN THE IQLIM.  SO FAR, 
NEITHER THE SARG OR THE SYRIAN MEDIA HAS MADE AN ISSUE OF 
RECENT ISRAELI STATEMENTS THREATENING POSSIBLE 
INTERVENTION SHOULD THE FIGHTING THREATEN ISRAEL'S 
SECURITY (REF H).  THE ISRAELIS MAY BE LOOKING CLOSELY AT 
THE PLO'S PRESENCE AND ACTIVITIES IN SOUTHERN LEBANON IN 
THIS REGARD. 
 
12.  (C)  THE AN NAHAR ARTICLE NO DOUBT GOES TO FAR IN 
CASTING THE FIGHTING IN THE IQLIM AS ENTIRELY A "WAR" 
BETWEEN SYRIA AND IRAN BUT TENSIONS BETWEEN THE TWO 
SPONSORS PROBABLY ARE A FACTOR.  THE ARTICLE DOES 
CORRECTLY HIGHLIGHT MANY OF THE RECENT EVENTS WHICH HAVE 
CAUSED STRAINS BETWEEN DAMASCUS AND TEHRAN.    THE TWO 
COUNTRIES ULTIMATELY ARE AT ODDS IN THEIR VISION FOR 
LEBANON'S FUTURE. 
 
DJEREJIAN 

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