The shocking impact of the twin explosions which killed 55 people and injured almost 400 in Damascus Thursday, May 10, galvanized Bashar Assad’s allies, starting with Iran, into frenetic activity. Within hours, Tehran had ordered its Lebanese proxy Hizballah to open up its arms stores and run quantities of weapons and military equipment across the border to the Syrian army – a striking reversal of the routine direction of arms supplies. Thursday night, Washington quietly asked Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to put a stop to the traffic.
While the Syrian opposition and Assad regime blamed each other – or al Qaeda – for the worst attack Damascus has seen in the 14-month uprising, it was obvious to both that it must have been the work of a major and very professional undercover agency.
In Tehran, Moscow and Beirut, the scale of the bombing attacks which leveled a key Syrian security headquarters was judged a sharp escalation in the offensive for President Assad’s overthrow – more intense even than the NATO campaign which last year removed the Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi.
DEBKAfile’s sources in Moscow say the event has consequently cast a dark shadow over relations between the Obama administration and Vladimir Putin at the outset of his third term as Russian president.
This week, Putin pointedly declined to attend the G-8 summit of world leaders meeting next week at the US presidential retreat of Camp David. He decided to send Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev over in his place.
The Russian president has three large bones to pick with Washington: a) He suspects American hands of stirring up opposition demonstrations against him during his election campaign; b) He is flat against the US missile shield going up in Europe and the Middle East to intercept Iran’s ballistic missiles; and c) He is solidly behind the Assad regime which he accuses the US of seeking to overthrow.
In its message to Beirut, the US reminded the Lebanese president that the transfer of war materials by Hizballah to Syria was a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended the 206 Lebanon war between the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group and Israel. Arms transfers between Syria and Lebanon were banned in both directions. But his prohibition was never upheld. Regular arms consignments have been crossing into Lebanon for Hizballah from and via Syria for the past six years without any interference by the United Nations force UNIFIL stationed in South Lebanon.
Washington knows perfectly well that no one in Lebanon will stop the arms flow to Syria either. But the request to President Suleiman is intended to lay the ground for expanded international and US intervention in the Syrian conflict.
Another step Tehran took straight after the Damascus bombings to firm up the Assad regime was to start organizing a network of closed circuit security cameras to be installed in all parts of Damascus and its exits and entries for three functions:
1. Opponents of the regime will have less freedom of movement in the capital;
2. The army and security forces can economize on manpower for securing the city. Patrols will fan out after cameras register hostile or suspicion movements.
3. Syrian and allied intelligence services can keep track of UN monitors’ movements. The UN mission is regarded by Syria, Iran and Russia as “the eyes and ears of the West.”