What was discussed in the recent meeting between UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, as reported yesterday by Asharq Al-Awsat, is worthy of our attention. The former told the latter that he could not remain in power. He reasoned that other than the fact that the opposition is capable of victory; the price would be the destruction of Damascus. To this Assad replied, I can win the war if Damascus is destroyed. This, in fact, is Assad’s plan: to destroy Damascus, Syria, and the region. He already tried this in Iraq and Gaza and is still attempting to do so in Lebanon. Here, I will borrow part of the memoirs of former French President Jacques Chirac, entitled Le Temps Présidentiel, in which he recounted several events that took place between the late Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and Syrian president Assad.
In his memoirs, Chirac recounts a dinner he had with the then US President George W. Bush in 2004. He remarks that Bush at the time did not understand Lebanon well, so he decided to explain to him the importance of supporting the country and restoring its independence from Syria and Hezbollah. He told him that presidential elections in Lebanon were scheduled to take place in October, and that this would be an appropriate occasion for a new start provided that the new president was not as usual imposed by Damascus.
Chirac adds that in the summer of 2004, while France and the US were working on a draft resolution calling for free and fair elections, accompanied by the unconditional withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, they got what they expected. Assad and his ally, the then Lebanese president Émile Lahoud, had agreed to amend the Lebanese constitution in a manner that would allow the latter to stay in office for another three-year term. Rafik Hariri, the then Lebanese prime minister, condemned this proposal. Assad summoned him to Damascus on 26 August and made it clear to him that Lahoud was his representative in Beirut, and that any affront against Lahoud was an affront against him.
The Syrian president threatened to inflict physical harm on Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt if they both insisted on rejecting Lahoud and the new constitution. Assad actually yelled at Hariri and told him that if they wanted him out of Lebanon, I will break Lebanon on your head. He threatened to pursue the Lebanese prime minister and his family, wherever they were, if he did not obey his orders.
On the afternoon of 14 February 2005, Chirac recounts that he was holding a meeting in the Élysée Palace when received the news that Hariri had been assassinated in an explosion in Beirut. Chirac claims that he had warned Hariri two weeks before, when he came to Paris. He told him that he did not have any solid information, but that the Lebanese prime minister should be cautious. They were criminals who would stop at nothing.
We are dealing with a real criminal who has intentionally killed tens of thousands, not because they were party to the conflict, but rather because he believes that killing and destruction are tools of control. This is what he is doing every day in Syria and what he will seek to do in wider the region if he remains in power for another year or more.