Thursday, January 19, 2006
Nasrallah: Lebanese can't manage own affairs
Here is some of what he said, courtesy of AFP:
"The situation in Lebanon is bad and has dangerous repercussions," Nasrallah told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat. "We launch our final appeal for the intervention of our Arab brothers."Nasrallah's Arab brothers have proposed to sell Lebanese sovereignty and security back to Syria. The crisis is Syrian made, and the cabinet crisis is Hizbullah's doing. If God's alleged party cares about Lebanese national interests (as opposed to Syrian), then perhaps it should not object to border demarcation, prosecuting the killers of Hariri and others, and yeah, protecting Lebanon from the fangs of its blood thirsty vampire "brothers" and "sisters".
The involvement of other Arabs is necessary "not only to ask them to help Lebanon and Syria to surmount the crisis, but we also need the intervention of wise Arab leaders to overcome our internal problems."
Lebanon's government has been virtually paralysed since December 12 when Hezbollah and the country's other Syrian-backed Shiite movement, Amal, ordered their cabinet members not to participate. Nasrallah said this crisis "proves that it is difficult for the Lebanese to manage their own affairs."
The Hezbollah chief added that he "rejects agitation in Lebanon for any war against Syria," referring to calls by anti-Damascus politicians for regime change in Damascus. "That is dangerous not only for Syria but also for Lebanon. We consider that any political, security or media war that certain people want to drag Lebanon into is contrary to Lebanese national interests," he said.
For in Hizbullah's dictionary, true Lebanese citizens cannot have selfish interests. They are freaks of nature who put the interests of others ahead of their own. Their country has open and vulnerable borders, it orbits at least two other nations, and gives its youth death and illusion instead of life and hope. These ideas put modern science to shame.
As for this alleged war on Syria from Lebanon, I seem to recall quite the contrary taking place! Nasrallah won't allow calls for regime change in Syria, but he has no problem with Syria massacring people in Lebanon. Does Nasrallah believe Israel was justified in attacking Lebanon, and that a war should not be waged against the Zionists? What? Too much common sense? Being someone who lived under both Israeli and Syrian occupations, I fail to see why I cannot pick full independence over a stupid choice between one of the two. But then, my honor is not attached to a gun, so I can't blame Nasrallah for wanting to defend his Russian/Iranian-procured honor.
We all wondered what the Saudis were thinking when they proposed to give Lebanese security back to Syria, as a way to "defuse the tension" between Lebanon and Syria. Their proposal, as well as Nasrallah's skewed notions of national interests, were explained by Michel Kilo in a recent article. Here are some excerpts. Precious words that deserve to be reproduced in full.
In an article published in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Syrian intellectual Michel Kilo, who resides in Damascus, attacked the Syrian regime, comparing it to the Soviet regime, and hinted that it was responsible for the assassination of Lebanese public figures.
The following are excerpts:
In a Cairo [press conference], Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shara' announced a new principle of modern Arab diplomacy, which might be called the 'Al-Shara' principle.' [This principle] limits Lebanese sovereignty, links this sovereignty to the Syrian regime, and states that a free and independent Lebanon is necessarily a center and a base for plots against Syria...
"The Al-Shara' principle is reminiscent of the principle once [established] by [Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev, which stated that the various socialist states had [only] limited sovereignty vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. [These states] could not act as they pleased, but had to give priority to the interests and security of the Soviet bloc in any measure they took and in any means they employed. This principle established the Soviets' right to take over the internal affairs of the socialist states, and legitimized Soviet military intervention against them...
"The Al-Shara' principle is reminiscent of the Brezhnev principle. [since the Syrian regime] - like [the Soviet regime] - thinks that Lebanon should formulate its policy according to Syrian interests. Moreover, the Syrian regime requires [Lebanon] to coordinate all matters, great or small, with Syria, since the minute Beirut becomes independent [of Damascus], the situation in Lebanon becomes an international affair. And in such a case, [Syria believes that it] has the right to intervene [in Lebanese matters] in order... to prevent Lebanon from becoming a center for conspiracies against it..."
Lebanon Must Keep in its Place... If it Forgets, There are a Thousand Ways to Remind it
"What is the meaning of the Al-Shara' principle, and where might its implementation lead the two countries?
"First of all, Syria wishes to treat Lebanon as a marginal [party] while the Syrian regime [is perceived] as central. [This means] that the center will take the decisions and the periphery will obey, or else [pay the price].
"Secondly, the Syrian regime is determined to adopt the Soviet model,... [and] has taken military and political control of Lebanon. It tried to usurp the PLO's [authority] in taking decisions regarding Palestine, and wanted to control the PLO according to [its own] political guidelines and interests.
"In addition, it has forced Jordan to respect [Syrian] hegemony and control over the Arab East, and has compelled Saudi Arabia to accept a division of labor in which Saudi Arabia's role is to provide the funds and Syria's role is to call the shots, intimidate the neighboring countries, and keep them quiet. This comes in addition to a tragic series of oppressive actions against very large sectors of Syrian society.
"Lebanon, peripheral and marginal, is required to keep in its place even after the Syrian army has withdrawn from its territory, and if it forgets, there are a thousand ways to remind it - either through dialogue or through operations in the field.
"Another implication [of the Al-Shara' principle] is that nobody may reprimand Syria for performing (what is sees as) its national duty towards Lebanon... Syria has an obligation to liberate Lebanon from subordination to foreigners, which is very dangerous [for Syria, since] it is aimed against [Syria], and against its role as the last bastion standing fast against America and Israel."
Syria Leaves Lebanon With Only Two Options: To Accept the Return of the Syrian Forces, or to Risk Constant Escalation of the Situation
"According to Syrian propaganda, Lebanon is the arena of a struggle... to save Syria's brothers [i.e. the Lebanese] and to protect the Syrian regime. If [Lebanese] are hurt in the course of [Syria's struggle for their sake], this is [only] because their country has become a base for foreign [forces] that must be eliminated. [Moreover], as everyone knows, liberty comes at a price, and the price is sometimes paid by innocent people. But even if [these innocent people] are killed by their [Syrian] brothers, they are... victims [of the foreign interference in Lebanon],... [since] Syria has the right to defend itself in any way and by any means against the Lebanese leaders, who cannot be anything other than foreign agents.
"Another implication [of the Al-Shara' principle] is that it leaves the Lebanese with only two options: either to [accept] Syria's return to their land, or to be subjected to a variety of ever-escalating [measures], in which [Syria] is entitled to use any [available] means to achieve its goal of protecting itself against Lebanon. This will be achieved either by the return of the Syrian forces into Lebanon, or by bringing Lebanon to the point where it agrees to [Syrian] limitations on its sovereignty, and accepts [Syria's] right to determine [Lebanon's] policy and interests, and even to control [Lebanon].
"This is the Al-Shara' principle. Therefore, do not expect any breakthrough or improvement in Syrian-Lebanese relations unless the Arab [states] - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, etc. - invest tremendous efforts in modifying this principle and [Al-Shara's] mentality towards Lebanon. Moreover, the Al-Shara' principle will not be the last escalation, and the painful events recently experienced by the Lebanese [people] will not be the last [either]."
So here you go, Sayid Hassan, Syria and your Arab (and Iranian) brothers want your country to continue being their ever-willing prostitute, not an independent and sovereign state with the right to choose. Lebanon's national interests you say?
Luckily for Lebanon, PM Fouad Siniora and some of the March 14 parties caught on to this paradigm that is being imposed on Lebanon by Syria and the rest of the "brothers."
Lebanon said Wednesday a Saudi plan aimed at defusing tensions between Beirut and Damascus falls short of expectations as the pro-Syrian Hezbollah movement appealed for Arab help in ending the crisis.The confrontation between Lebanon and the Arab regimes has begun. At stake is Lebanon's independence and sovereignty. With this rejection of the Saudi plan, Siniora is emerging as one of the few leaders in Lebanon's recent history to base policy on national interests, and not the intersecting interests of alleged brothers. Let us hope he sticks to his guns.
The plan is based on Syrian proposals and does not meet Lebanese demands for full sovereignty, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said.
"They are Syrian ideas conveyed by (Saudi Foreign Minister Prince) Saud al-Faisal ... that cannot resolve the problems with the Syrian brothers," he told reporters.
"Most Lebanese want healthy relations with Syria based on mutual respect, recognition of Lebanon's independence and sovereignty, and consequently the Syrian proposals do not respond to their ambitions. That does not mean we are hostile toward Syria, on the contrary. An independent Lebanon can cooperate better with Syria than a dependent one," the prime minister said.
"First we must insist on the question of security, and the killing machine must stop."
Dude, from up there in your ivory tower high above the Potomac, you must have a highly distorted view of the real situation in Lebanon and in the Middle-East at large.
This “courageous rejection of the Saudi plan” [sic] by hapless Seniora Fuad is probably just another smokescreen engineered by the Saudi Ministry of Propaganda and Information Management: Stalin actually did the same in Eastern Europe throughout the 1950s…
Last time I checked though, half the Lebanese government was busy effecting regular pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia- not the unique Hajj prescribed by Shariaa Law, but more secular forms of bowing, at the feet of King Abdullah in his Riyadh palace– courtesy of Hariri Construction for, as all great despots know, one is never better served than by his personal slave.
Lately, Nasrallah’s allies of choice have been found mostly amongst the Christian populace, supporters of Gen. Michel Aoun and secularist intellectuals such as Dr. Salim al-Hoss: on the orders hand, the “Muslim brothers” be they “Arab” or Pashtu are now all squarely on the side of Saudi Arabia and its gang of highly archaic “Future” fifth columnists.
Yes Lebanon has lost its sovereignty, but not (only) because of say “Syria” or “the Baath party”: The 1989 Taef agreement imposed by gunpoint on reluctant Lebanese lawmakers and the high-octane Gerrymander electoral law of 2000 were both engineered by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, with a weakened Hafiz-al-Asad merely playing the role of supportive (armed) stooge to the Al-Saud gang…
Bottom Line: the only way to reestablish national sovereignty is through free and fair elections which truly reflect the will of the Lebanese people.
Michel Aoun and Hasan Nasrallah are right: we must quickly dissolve this illegitimate puppet parliament and hold new elections with normal districting.
LET THE PEOPLE OF LEBANON STAND UP AND BE COUNTED!
I’m pretty much certain FPM, the Hizb, and their independent allies will get a 60%+ majority
It is time that the camp that believes in independence and sovereignty takes a strong stand and asks HA to join the opposition. I suggest again, that the government should even go furthw=er. Make it clear that there is no room for theocratic groups in a democratic society. If Lebanese masses then choose the theocratic route then their demand should be respected and we should all stop believing in this idea of a Lebanese identity.
It is incumbent on the PM to show that he values what he was elected to do. establish a free and democratic republic. Mr. Saniora has to stop compromising on the what is uncommpromisable. Independence is either total or it is subservience, the twian are not part of a whole, they do not mix.
It is equally unfortunate that HA , especially Mr. Nasrallah, is allowed to make so many unsubstantiated accusations and arrive at totally illogical conclusions. His declarations about the inability of the Lebanese to govern their own affairs is a sophomoric one. It is nothing short of a self fulfilling prophecy. Such statements are never to be taken seriously and need to be exposed for the childish logic that they portray.
But speaking of insulting, the bit about the Lebanese not being able to govern themselves pales in comparison to what he said about "1.39 billion Muslims" in that interview. He said, in response to Ahmadinejad's remarks about the Holocaust, that Ahmadinejad expresed the views of the world's Muslims! In other words, Nasrallah thinks that 1.39 Muslims are all anti-Semites like him and his Iranian buddy! As for the 10 million he spared? Well, they're just deliquents.
That said, I wonder if a new election would be so bad (provided that ther's a fair electoral law, otherwise it's not worth it). Aoun will have more trouble winning the elections this time, and a partial LF victory may secure the majority to put Lahoud on trial. The presidential position is the key to a lot of problems.
On the other hand, an electoral campaign will do little to appease the sectarian tensions.
Does anyone know the process that was used by HA in order to ask its cabinet ministers to boycott the meetings.
Often the process is extremely revealing about the real values that an organization claims to uphold. Was the decision as a result of open discussions, who initiated the suggestion, was it voted upon, who are the voting members, were the members that voted appointed or elected ...
Can a nondemocratic organization be trusted to work within a democratic traditio?
Anton: My favorite, or perhaps most revolting bit, is when he talked about how much he missed Hariri, before and after he exonerated Syria of his murder. He also seemed to blame the problems with Syria on Jumblatt and "other parties". Syria is defending itself, he said. And March 8 was done in defense of Syria. What a nice gesture that was to mobilize hundreds of thousands to save another country's face! Who does that?!!
Ghassan: Hizbullah's ministers get their orders from the Shura council, headed by Nasrallah. They do not answer to the PM or Parliament speaker. I wrote about this here.
If we're talking about revolting Kais, we can stay up all night. I found particularly dangerous the bit when he talked about how come the investigation didn't follow any lead pointing to Israel. Then he added, aren't there people in Lebanon who have collaborated with Israel, who were trained in Israel? Amazing. It's like the pre-packeged answers, but not only that, he's basically telling us that he would've like to blame this thing on some Lebanese guys, probably former SLA or something, wrap it up, and get on with life! Simply disgusting.
The funny thing is that he should not be wondering too much. After all his buddies the Syrians and Jamil as-Sayed were the ones to exonerate Israel when they blamed it on Abu Adas!
But this was really disturbing, and in a way explained precisely why HA was silent throughout the 90s when Syria was persecuting LFers and Aounists in Lebanon. He was all for it.
And the self-puffed, self-righteous Nasser wannabe complained how under the Syrians, he was this big shot talking about things far more important than Lebanese politics. He was a regional big shot. Now, he has to deal with the "alleyways" of Lebanon. His contempt for Lebanon is remarkable. But he wants it both ways. And he just wants this whole thing to go away, for the Syrians to regain the "strategic" upper hand in Lebanon (I.e. decide Lebanon's future), put him in charge as the vanguard, so that he can resume his wet dream of being this pan-Arab Islamic leader, the new Nasser.
What garbage. This interview reveals so much of this man. And it's quite disturbing.
Obviously I did not mean to imply that either the PM or the Parliament had anything to do with the HA decision making when they decided to cease attending the cabinet meetings.
I had suspected that all decisions were taken by a select unelected few, the Shura council. I wander how many people in Lebanon are aware of this.
I hope that you would not think it is too presumptuous of me to ask you and other bloggers to consider the possibility of blogging about this issue. I believe that it might be important to highlight the process of decision making. I believe that such clarification will demonstrate a major contradiction. HA wants to be Lebanese and yet get orders from Iran, be part of a democratic process and yet run its internal affairs as a theocracy.... An event, an idea , a concept cannot be and yet not be at the same time!!!
Tony: and don't forget when he acknowledged that others might see Hizbullah as an Iranian force in Lebanon. But the "leadership is Lebanese", he assured us! And they fought the SLA why?
You seem to find only natural the fact that self-proclaimed “Lebanese patriots” such as Hariri and Saniura hold Saudi citizenship, not to mention the fact that they repeatedly called a foreign head of state, King Abdallah Al-Saud, “the leader of our Ummah”…. and the nation in question is not Lebanon, nor Syria or Persia for that matter!
So why the double standard?
Why accept from the highly retrograde “Future” party much much more than what you deem tolerable in the case of Lebanon’s mainstream Shiite and Christian parties?
FYI, it is only you who insists that this issue is a struggle between fascist Maronites and Shias. I don't believe it is. is Saad Hariri a maronite? Was Rafik Hariri a fascist? Who has called the shots in Lebanon for the past 15+years? Certainly not those "fascists!" You are stuck in a timewarp and can only parrot tired old arguments. And fyi, Hizbullah is "fighting" alleged American domination, not this fascism of yours, which is, incidentally, what Assad and Ahmadinejad apply on a daily basis in their countries.
Nesta: how is the weather on planet Vega?
The NWD pseudo was merely an anti-fascist/anti-Tony private joke of sorts.
Nothing very cryptic or “encyclopedic” here…if you know your 20th century European history that is!
The Phalange Party was inspired by Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera's Spanish Falange Party. The Spanish Falange Party was a fanatical Catholic nationalist-socialist movement and the Lebanese Phalange wanted to emulate their European counterparts in Germany, Spain and Italy.
Please do not speake for "Shiites" of Lebanon unless YOU are one.
Who the hell are you to speak for me?
A Lebanese Shia girl who is sick of your Iran-loving comments and Lebanese Shiite assumptions--we do not all appreciate Hezbollah or Iran's money, nor do we have to.
In other words, if guys like him have sunken so low as to view Ahmadi Najad as some kind of Mohammedan Messiah, this probably has very little to do with Shiite theology, and a lot to do with Saudi idolater-bashing (as in “Al-mawtt lil qilâb mushreqeen”) and inequitable US foreign policy (as in “it’s OK for the Pakis and the Israelis to have the A bomb, but not for these bloody Ayyranians and those backward Ayyrab Bedouins”)
Sickening is the word my dear Kais...
The US don't have the right to force the Lebanese to adopt their point of view (and they aren't forcing us).
My first point is...you should find your identity! trust me being anonymous is not good for the phsycological side of yoru being. Are you Lebanese or Syrian or Iranian. If the latter two...please leave and go to those countries and live in peace.
My second point is the discussion about Hizbteezee is academic since they are, whether we like it or not, a part of the political landscape. What should be done now is for all political parties in lebanon to adhere to a set of principles which govern party politics. Such as the poster above who says no more outside finacning of parties. This would put a huge crink in the accounts of HA, Harriri bloc and the rest. Let the people choose to support who they want and to whom they should give their money. These new rules would abviously encompass HA arbitrarily leaving their posts in Cabinet and trying to hold the countyr to ransom. To nayone who thinks they are justified..TIL HAZ TEEZZEE!
Third point, I for one appreciate that America is supporting MY COUNTRY. It means the same ideals that we hope for, Democracy, Freedom of Religion (to practice or not, to convert or not), Freedom of speech, public institutions free of graft and corruption and the ability of the human spirit to grow to its fullest potential are only a phone call away. If anyone says its anti arab anti lebanese they should be reminded that lebanese whether you are muslim or Christian ARE NOT ARAB...ARAB is for those people of the desert. Last time I checked we have no desert in Lebanon.
Fourth, safety and Secruity for our children. We must start to stand up to the bullying tactics of the outside forces in Lebanon. As such we must first and formost call the bluff of the palestinians and make them return to the camps without their weapons. If they fight then we will know that their stated declarations of peace and self protection were all lies as usual. If they voluntarily return then it would be a miracle. Either way it must be done. Secondly, outlaw any party that begins to declare its allegiance to a foreign country and still claim to be lebanese. If they wish to love the brotherlies and sisterlies then they are free to leave. Thirdly start forensic audits of bank accounts likely owned by HA and other outside forces and freeze them. Without grease the wheels will stop.
Point five, is for a widespread media campaign to begin to expose among other things corrupt politicians and public and civil servants. Shame them into leaving. Finally, publically say that HA is being financed, run, supported and fed by IRAN and THAT IS FOREIGN INTERFERENCE in our domestic affairs. Publicly state we welcome and accept any help we can get from America or anyone else willing to give us that help without tying conditions as to our sovereignty. Ironically, out of all the parties offering us help it is only the Americans who are not putting conditions on our soverignty as a condition to help. Funny isnt it?
Point six, begin a widespread public works program in the South to build government schools and hospitals and social services. Take back our country and ensure that our future generations stop learning that the mad men who lead iran from the Ayatollah to the mighty midgit are not good people. Bring LEBANESE back into the fold and to begin to appreciate their identity so that they will stop being "anonymous".
Finally, to the poster who is an American who says she admires iran for her great civilisation all i have to say is...you are an idiot. Iran civilisation was persian and that civilisation was lost 1300 years ago. Remember, these words, dont open your mouth if you have nothing to say it save air!
To everyone else who contributes with logical and erudite postings i say AYESH LUBNAN!!!!!
Regards - Shunkleash
The secret state
Monday 5th June 2006
Authoritarian and anti-western, Syria stands alongside Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas in defying US ambitions for the Middle East. But a UN report on the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, due out this month, could bring the regime to its knees. Patrick Seale on the linchpin to the battle for a region in turmoil
One nation, American hawks believe, holds the key to subduing and pacifying a Middle East that is giving Washington a severe headache. But it is not Iraq, Iran, or even the increasingly turbulent Palestinian territories. It is a prickly, defiant and repressive state apparently in the grip of its security services: Syria.
Syria is the linchpin in the battle raging for the region. On one side of the conflict stand the United States and its Israeli ally. They bully their opponents, and are swift to resort to threats or brute force. Ranged against them is a motley anti-western alliance - the Tehran/Damascus/south Lebanon axis - with an extension to Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that, having won the Palestinian elections in January and formed a government, is now under international siege.
Four men represent this alliance: President Mahmoud Ahmad-inejad of Iran, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, head of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, and the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. None of these men is a saint and all have resorted to questionable tactics, but together they form the main resistance to US-Israeli hegemony over the region.
Big issues are at stake: whether the US will remain the unchallenged power in the Middle East, whether Israel can suppress the Palestinians by force and, most importantly, whether small powers can hold their own against a bellicose superpower.
The struggle is particularly ferocious because it is being waged in a context of international anarchy. The flames were fanned by the illegal western invasion of Iraq, which has distorted every political relationship in the Middle East and given a great boost to its most violent and lawless elements.
Amid this chaos, Israeli and American strategists see Syria as the region's weak link. Bring the country to heel, runs their argument, and the whole Tehran/Damascus/Hezbollah/Hamas axis would collapse. An isolated Iran could then be forced to shut down its nuclear programme; Iraqi insurgents would be deprived of jihadi reinforcements; Hezbollah could be disarmed and Lebanon brought into the US-Israeli orbit; and Israel could make short work of Hamas.
In Washington, this thinking produced the Syria Accountability Act 2003, which freezes key assets in the US. President Bush explained that sanctions against Damascus were needed "to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States constituted by the actions of the government of Syria in supporting terrorism, interfering in Lebanon, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programmes, and undermining United States and international efforts with respect to the stabilisation and reconstruction of Iraq". Little wonder that Syria feels it is in America's gunsights.
The challenges that the country faces are vast, and demand a leader of stature. On that matter, the jury is still out. Bashar al-Assad, a mild-mannered, UK-trained ophthalmologist, was placed in power by the nation's barons on the death of Hafez al-Assad in June 2000. But while the father was a master of realpolitik, the son's record has so far been marred by diplomatic blundering, painfully slow domestic reforms and human-rights abuses, which hit a new low in recent weeks with the arbitrary arrest of some three dozen pro-democracy activists.
This raises fundamental questions about Assad's political instincts. Is all-out repression the best strategy for rallying the home front against external enemies? Would the president not be wiser to curb the powers of the dreaded secret police, check the greedy excesses of his immediate entourage, allow the population some genuine freedoms and even co-opt into his government the "patriotic opposition" of human-rights campaigners and civil-rights activists, who are as opposed to accepting the diktat of the US and Israel as he is himself?
President Assad would no doubt argue that if the regional environment were less hostile - if Syria were not caught between the danger of overspill from the war in Iraq on one border and Israel's cruel oppression of the Palestinians on the other - he could afford to become more liberal, as he briefly attempted to do when he took over. Yet his actions present an enigma. Is he, at heart, a reformer manqué, faced with deadly threats to his country and to himself? Is he a reluctant figurehead manipulated by ruthless placemen and relatives? Or has he simply acquired a taste for absolute power on his father's model?
One of the greatest tests that Assad as a leader and Syria as a nation now face is the attempt to strip Damascus of its remaining influence in Lebanon. The challenge has been mounted by the US and France, which have jointly sponsored a United Nations Security Council resolution (number 1680, of 17 May) calling on Syria to establish full diplomatic relations with Lebanon "as a significant step towards asserting Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence".
Temporarily allied but in reality in competition, France and the US are hoping to step into the vacuum in Lebanon that Syria's ejection would create. Syria has rejected the UN resolution as interference in its internal affairs, signalling that it will not give in without a fight.
This is no mere sideshow to the bigger regional contest. Lebanon is of immense importance to Syria. With Damascus less than 20 kilometres from the Lebanese border and the heart of Syria vulnerable to a thrust up the Beka'a Valley, a basic principle of Syrian policy has for decades been to prevent any hostile power establishing itself in Lebanon, or mounting hostile operations against it from Lebanese soil.
Syria has striven to keep Lebanon away from any relationship with Israel, and firmly within its own sphere of influence. Israel invaded Lebanon not once but twice - in 1978 and again on a larger scale in 1982, when it killed roughly 17,000 Lebanese and Palestinians and besieged and bombarded Beirut. One of its aims was to drive out the Syrians and bring Lebanon under its control, though the attempt failed when Syria managed to abort a US-brokered peace deal between Israel and Lebanon in 1983.
A focal point of the present "struggle for Lebanon" is the investigation into the murder, in February 2005, of Rafiq Hariri, the billionaire former Lebanese prime minister, architect of Lebanon's post-civil-war revival and close personal friend of President Jacques Chirac of France. Hariri was emerging as a potential challenger to Syria's dominance over Lebanon, and Syria has been widely blamed for his killing.
Although it insists it is innocent, the government in Damascus is anxiously awaiting the report of the UN's Belgian investigator Serge Brammertz, due out this month. Chirac, who strongly supported Bashar al-Assad when he first came to power, is now an implacable enemy, and wants the killers brought to justice.
If Brammertz produces hard evidence implicating top Syrian officials, international and domestic pressure on the Assad regime will reach critical levels. The recent wave of arrests of government opponents was a warning to dissidents that the regime is still firmly in charge. But these may well prove to be empty gestures. Should the Brammertz report condemn Assad's inner circle, Syria is likely to face punishing sanctions, which would gravely weaken the Middle East's anti-US and anti-Israeli stance.
Patrick Seale is a Middle East analyst
Syria by numbers
19.04: total population in millions (2005) . . . 74: percentage of population that is Sunni Muslim . . . 3,400: GDP per capita in US dollars (2005) . . . 1918: Arab revolt and establishment of the kingdom of Syria . . . 1920: French rule over Syria begins under League of Nations mandate . . . 1946: independence . . . 800,000: internet users . . . 14: number of regimes throughout history that have occupied Syria (including Hebrews, Persians, Greeks and Romans) . . . 5ft 8ins: average height of a Syrian man (2006) . . . 40,000: troops sent into Lebanon in 1976 . . . 29: years of the Syrian presence in Lebanon that ended in 2005 . . . 17,000: number of people "disappeared" by the Syrian
state in the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to Amnesty International . . . 60: percentage of male population that smokes cigarettes . . . 25: percentage of wives (2005) who reported being beaten . . . 185,180: size of country in square kilometres . . . 58: percentage of Syria covered by the Syrian Desert . . . 420: kilometres of the Euphrates flowing through Syria from Turkey to Iraq . . . 120,000: number of dogs and whores that Yasser Arafat was son to, according to the Syrian defence minister in 1999 . . . 8: number of tourists (in millions) that Syria aims to attract by 2010 . . . 72: average life expectancy . . . 3: percentage of population over 65 . . . 8,000-10,000: date BC from which Damascus, the capital, is thought to have been inhabited . . . 400: years that Syria was under Turkish rule . . . 400,000: number of barrels of oil produced per day (this is the biggest export, though much less than from Syria's neighbours) . . . 92: number of clay tablets on which 3,800-year-old Babylonian beer recipes have been discovered . . . 2007: year of next elections
This article first appeared in the New Statesman.
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