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Friday, November 11, 2005

Bashar declares war on Lebanon

Bashar Assad's inflammatory speech Thursday carried an informal war declaration on Siniora's government and is further indication that the Syrian regime is desperately trying to drag Lebanon and the world into a confrontation to shift the focus away from its own domestic and international failings.

Assad began by setting up the anti-Syrian plot scenario. Syrians must understand, he said, that demands for political reform in Syria are part of arrogant and humiliating international pressure on Syria. The flow of terror into Iraq, Assad griped, is due to Iraqi and US lack of cooperation with the regime, not the other way around. Assad's army has neither the technical capability nor the required Iraqi and US cooperation to enable Syria to do something about border infiltration. In his complaint, Syria's president unintentionally acknowledged that terror is in fact being smuggled into Iraq through Syria, and proposed the strange solution of other countries intervening in Syrian security operations to halt terrorism.

After a short obligatory bit on Palestine, Assad, who must feel cornered by Detlev Mehlis and Fouad Siniora, accused the majority of the Lebanese population of delusion, calling their increasingly popular prime minister a slave who follows orders from another slave, who apparently takes orders from the United States.

The ailing president (by his own admission he was recovering from an illness) launched a fierce verbal attack on Saad Hariri and his followers in Lebanon , describing them as ungrateful and lacking morals. Their anti-Syrian stance, he argued, make Rafik Hariri, whom Assad reduced into a pro-Syrian lackey, a traitor.

Assad made it clear that Syria cannot tolerate an independent Lebanon free of exclusively pro-Syrian policies. With the exception of few groups such as Hizbullah, all other groups are apparently working for Israel and have turned Lebanon into a passage way for anti-Syrian conspiracies. He blamed Siniora, the helpless "slave", of allowing Lebanon to become a "factory" of anti-Syrian plots.

As for the Mehlis investigation, Assad said he would humour the international community and "play their game" but only to the extent that Syrian national security allows. This means there will be no handing over of Syrian official and everything we've been hearing in the press appears to be an act of buying time. For Assad already knows the outcome. Syria will be accused of not cooperating and will be found guilty. The Mehlis report, he said, ended any doubt he had of a possible malfunction in the Syrian system that could have led to the murder of Hariri. Now, after reading the report, he is convinced that no Syrian was responsible and that it's all part of a pre-conceived plot to destabilize Syria and punish it for its Arab nationalist stance, and support for the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance.

In his opinion, Syria is faced with two options: resistance or chaos. Resistance is the cheapest of the two alternatives. In an alarmingly threatening tone reminiscent of Ahmadinejad's call to wipe Israel off the map, he warned that the smallest damage to Syria will have dire consequences on the entire region and on "the agents who brought the colonialist".

In what can only be interpreted as a call to mobilize his Lebanese supporters, Assad expressed confidence that Lebanon's salvation will come through historical remembrance and at the hands of the "national forces" that struck down past agreements with Israel and fought the Israeli occupation. He singled out "Tripoli al-Sham" for its "historic stance", forgetting that that city was nearly destroyed by the Syrian army in the 1980s.

Assad's speech was long and some of it was improvised. It was strongly worded, to put it mildly, and yet not surprising given Syria's predicament and the few options the Syrian regime has been given. Assad expressed it best when he said they were being asked to either be killed or commit suicide. He has realized that there is no winning the game in the short run. The "resistance" option could mean dragging Lebanon into military confrontations and further destabilization (more on Syria's plan of attack involving Palestinian factions here). At this stage, he can only offer the semblance of cooperation to buy himself and his regime time. I see his speech as a declaration of war on Lebanon, in the fashion I described a few posts ago.

It is unfortunate if not shameful that he chose to attack and denigrate Siniora, whose statesmanship is unrivaled in the country and the region. The Lebanese PM is guilty of outwitting and outmaneuvering the Syrians in their constant attempt to bring the Lebanese army into military confrontation with the Palestinians and cast Lebanon as a divided country between those that are with Syria and Arab nationalism and those against it.

Siniora's inclusive policies and constant consultation with most Lebanese parties have helped steer the country away from the kind of internal division Bashar and his group hope for and are working towards. He was able to contain most of the criticism, much of it by Hizbullah and Aoun, and prove he is, by far, Lebanon most respected politician—a true patriot who has been working diligently for the country's best interests. Under his guidance, the Lebanese army robbed the pro-Syrian Palestinian factions the chance to create a conflict with the Lebanese army that would have easily plunged the country into war. That is not to say the Syrians do not and will not continue to use that card. There are reports that the Syrians continue to smuggle weapons through the porous borders with Syria.

Bashar was clearly frustrated that Lebanon stopped being its vessel and cash-cow. If Rafik Hariri was guilty of anything, it was of buying into the concept of Lebanon as a Syrian Hong Kong. This was Bashar's vision for his country and ours. Syria, like China, could escape reform at home and create a more liberal economy Hong Kong style in neighbouring Lebanon. This vision failed, mainly because Syria is no China and Bashar and his ruling group proved to be no visionaries. Rafik Hariri, whose pragmatism guided his policies, eventually realized that Lebanon's survival as a state necessitated complete independence from the hegemony of its neighbor.

Many Syrians and their Arab sympathizers will cheer for Assad's "I will bow to no one but God" speech. It has all the classical components that appeal to their emotions. Many Arab stations, especially the ones he approves of (he also attacked the Arab media), will point out his "revelations" about Mehlis's alleged refusal to interrogate the suspects in Egypt and overlook the many conditions Assad imposed on the inquiry. They will not see an arrogant regime blatantly judging the decisions of politicians from another country, just because they don't serve the Syrian regime's narrow interests. Bashar has no right deciding what certain groups of Lebanese can or should do. He has no right expecting Lebanese people to marginalize those he deemed traitors, because just like the groups he defended, these people are part of the Lebanese fabric. Lebanon's choices are not Syria's choices simply because they are two different countries.

Comments:
FYI, here's a link to the text of the speech in Arabic.
 
Great post, Qais. Heart-felt and quite revealing.

In a somewhat unrelated note, if you could please change the URL of Lebanese Bloggers to

http://lebanesebloggers.blogspot.com

I'd be greatfull.

thanks for the post and this little favor.

Best,

Raja
 
You can read the speech in english here:

http://memritv.org/Transcript.asp?P1=916

Not that MEMRI is not Muslim-friendly, so don't go there if you're going to be shocked.
 
The best part is:

"Today I'm using the third person, saying "they" and "them," but you all know who I mean by “they” and them”. The reason they are angry at Syria is that President Bashar Al-Assad made a commitment to them to carry out internal reform, and has not done so. "

As woud raf say, damn "them"
 
Thanks guys- I had crappy internet access for two weeks so I haven't been able to hunt for good links. I return to DC tomorrow so expect more timely posts (this one about Bashar sat unpublished for a day and a half.)

Raja, done. :)
 
Yup, great post. Looking forward to more frequent ones :)
 
"He singled out "Tripoli al-Sham" for its "historic stance", forgetting that that city was nearly destroyed by the Syrian army in the 1980s."


Nearly destroyed? You mean leveled.
 
Bashar is the last arab leader who dares to confront the west and that seems very disturbing to many western leaders used to see leaders such as Mobarak and the King of Jordan making big smiles and refusing to do the same reforms that the west is pressing Bashar to do.
Israel unnumerable rejected UN resolutions are just ignored and the west in banging on a resolution to find the murderer of a syrian ex-friend, turned foe and whose death has becomes a pretext to turn the geopolotical cards around. No wonder that whole circus ressembles a plot to weaken Syria and make it capitulate and give the Golan as a present to Israel, among others.
The Lebanese press has been insulting Bashar and the syrians for the last few months, they were due for a backlash, they should not be surprised..
yes, Bashar went overboard, yes Bashar should make reforms, but shouldn't all the other arab countries, friends to the west, should do? where are the democracy in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan? and is Lebanon a democracy with all these sectarian rules?
Let us not rejoice of Syria's isolation. Humiliating more the arabs would not solve the terrorism that seems to be obsessing the west after they tasted it, while the palestinian have been tasting it from Israel for the last 50 years.
 
Thank you Issam.
 
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