Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

“Keeping a distance” the Lebanese way | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Authorities in Lebanon were very enthusiastic after intercepting a ship that passed through its waters, claiming that it was carrying a cargo of weapons addressed “to the rebels in Syria”, and are now determined to hold those involved accountable. The Defense Minister vowed he would not allow investigations into the seized ship or the issue to be diluted, and the President said that he would fight the offenders. The “Lutfallah 2” cargo ship was said to have been loaded with weapons in Libya, and arrived in Lebanon by sea. Yet despite no weapon emerging or being used, the statesmen are eager to prosecute those involved.

Lebanon claims to have adopted a policy that can be found under the international dictionary definition of “keeping a distance”, when it comes to dealing with the Syrian revolution. However, this policy is practiced only to avoid condemning the crimes of the Syrian regime, and to justify staying away from the popular Syrian and Arab sense of accountability. However, the Lebanese authorities are not “distant” in as much as they are an important factor for the Syrian regime. They were not distant when they seized the Libyan cargo ship. In fact, they were doing what Turkey did when it seized the “Atlantic Cruiser” freight ship, loaded with weapons and docked in a Turkish port, where it was initially reported that Iranian weapons were found on board, on route to the Syrian regime. Yet the Turks subsequently resolved the matter and closed the case file. In contrast, Lebanon has made the cargo ship a prominent issue and is more enthusiastic about pursuing the details of the case than the al-Assad regime itself, which certainly does not pursue smugglers with the same zeal as the Lebanese officials.

Lebanon did not distance itself when a few dissident soldiers from the Syrian army fled and crossed its borders. Rather, some Lebanese elements arrested them and handed them over to the Syrian forces, where they would face the risk of being killed, thus contravening international laws. As for cases when the Lebanese authorities have distanced themselves, consider their silence regarding the Syrian and Iranian embassies abducting people on the streets of Beirut, in broad daylight. We have not heard anything from the security or military services or the presidential establishment about any effort to investigate the kidnapped Ahwazi or Syrians in Beirut.

If Lebanon had chosen to adopt the stance of “keeping a distance” and was genuinely able to do that then we would be happy, but we know that it is quite impossible to stop the combatants, whether individuals or governments, from using Lebanon’s territory and its waters. What the Lebanese authorities are doing currently is clearly biased, keeping silent about the actions of the Syrian regime and its affiliated parties that provide its means to kill, pursue and propagandize, even using state agencies and institutions in some cases. On the other hand, the Lebanese state is harnessing all its capabilities to pursue Syrian revolutionaries or restrict them, as we see in the investigations into the “Lutfallah 2” smuggling attempt, because the ship passed through a Lebanese port, until it became a matter that the President and the Defense Minister pledged to follow up.

This eagerness to please Damascus on the part of the Lebanese authorities will not come to the aid of the tottering al-Assad regime. Instead, it will anger governments working with the other side, such as the Gulf States and the West, and it will shock the majority of the Arab people, and these countries are the most important to Lebanon.

Lebanon will remain the main arena for Syrian events, regardless of their developments and how they end. If Lebanon does not want this to be the case then when it declares it has distanced itself it must actually prove it, either through refusing to cooperate with both Syrian sides, or turning a blind eye to all violations.

It is expected that the Lebanese should support change in Damascus, and support the overthrow of a regime that has exhausted and ravaged Lebanon with wars and interventions, not even hesitating to plunder the savings of its citizens and banks. The revolution in Syria in fact reflects the age old demands of the Lebanese.

The truth is that the fall of the regime in Damascus will not only liberate the Syrians, but it will also liberate Lebanon and its people.