Israel: April 8, 2005

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Syrians apparently have very large sums deposited in Lebanese banks ("The Switzerland of the Levant"). Recently Syrians have been pulling their money out. This could be tied to the proposed troop pull out, or it could be over worries that Lebanon is going to dissolve into civil war again.

Since mid-March there have been about a half-dozen bombings in the country, all in Christian areas. Although there have been some casualties (in one instance about a dozen injuries), no one seems to have been killed. This is because all of the incidents have occurred at "off hours" and in places where few, if any people are likely to be around. The reasons for this are unclear, and range from possible attempts by extremists to send a "political" message (but what is it?) to efforts to initiate more retaliatory attacks (but against whom?). French intelligence believes that the recent spate of bomb attacks in Christian areas is the work of Syrian intelligence, trying to send a message to the Christian leadership.

Syria has maintained about 40 military bases across the country, with a strong concentration of its forces in the Bekaa Valley, to which it has historic claims. The proposed withdrawal, initially though to be a mostly cosmetic movement of troops from high visibility areas, seems now to be a more serious pull-out. The Syrian government has invited UN observers to monitor the movement of troops out of the Bekaa. 

It now seems likely that the Syrians will be pulling out completely by the end of the month. The will undoubtedly be leaving some intelligence personnel behind, and maintaining a tight rein on their contacts within the Lebanese security apparatus. On one level, Syrian leader Assad may be trying to defuse international pressure on his regime, and he may also reap domestic benefits if, as seems likely, the Lebanese deployment is facing some opposition at home.

The French seem to have been doing a lot of contingency planning (probably from the comfort of the support ship Var, anchored off the coast). Most of this seems to be directed at the emergency evacuating French (about 15,000 people) and other European Union (another 15,000) nationals presently in the country should things go really bad. But there also seems to be some planning for a possible peacekeeping intervention, in the event that things go only slightly bad. About the same level of force would be needed for either operation, a brigade or two. There are hints that the French are in touch with the US on this.

 

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