JANE'S: U.S. MULLING HIZBULLAH STRIKES

Could the U.S. be planning covert attacks against terrorists in Lebanon? Jane's Intelligence Digest thinks so.

US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld is considering plans to expand the global war on terrorism with multi-pronged attacks against suspected militant bases in countries such as Lebanon and Somalia...Sending US troops into lawless Somalia would not be new, nor is it likely to cause serious diplomatic waves. Covert US forces have periodically infiltrated the country over the past two years in order to conduct surveillance and even snatch [Al Qaeda] suspects...However, sending US special forces into Lebanon - and in particular an area like the Bekaa Valley (which is virtually Syrian territory) and where the bulk of Damascus' military forces in Lebanon are deployed - would be an entirely different matter. Deployment of US forces in the area would almost certainly involve a confrontation with Syrian troops.That may well prove to be the objective, since the Bush administration is currently stepping up pressure on the Damascus regime in a bid to force it to cut off all support for radical Palestinian groups which have been targeting Israel during the three-year-old intifada. Washington also wants Syria to abandon its weapons of mass destruction and to withdraw all its forces from Lebanon, a virtual satellite since Syria moved in with tacit US support in 1990 as part of a strategy to end Lebanon's civil war.The US administration has long considered Damascus as a prime candidate for 'regime-change' (along with Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and possibly even Saudi Arabia). Syria, once a powerhouse of Arab radicalism that could not be ignored, has been seriously weakened, both militarily and politically. Washington may feel that the time is coming to oust Bashir Al-Assad and the ruling generals. Targeting Syria via Lebanon, the only concrete political influence Damascus has to show following decades of radical diplomacy, could prove to be a means to that end...Moreover, since the 11 September 2001 attacks, Washington has been keen to prove that Hizbullah has a global reach, and is thus a legitimate target for its war on terrorism. Thus far, US intelligence services have been unable to produce compelling evidence supporting this claim. So instead of launching military strikes, the Bush administration has sought to weaken Hizbullah by putting pressure on Iran, the movement's ideological mentor, and on Syria, which has used the Shia militants as what amounts to a proxy force against Israel over the last 20 years...Washington's own focus on Hizbullah has intensified amid claims that the movement has links with Al-Qaeda (even though Hizbullah is staunchly Shia, while Al-Qaeda's religious ideology stems from the puritanical Wahhabite sect of Sunni Islam). Whether there is any actual operational alliance between Hizbullah and Al-Qaeda remains highly questionable.
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