An Arab expert who recently visited Damascus said that Lebanon is headed towards difficult times and that it will witness a recurrence of the event that took place on Sunday 27 January, (a Hezbollah-led demonstration left nine killed and dozens injured) and that tensions would prevail.
Today, the Lebanese people are living under trying times awaiting a solution. However, the aforementioned Arab expert explicitly said that no one would allow for the destruction of Lebanon, which is not expected to witness stability any time soon.
“It is quite unlikely that a comprehensive war would erupt there,” he said, “Nevertheless there is a major issue that must be considered: the Americans expect Hezbollah to turn its guns internally – this will not happen. As for the party that will point its guns domestically, it will be the Amal movement since Hezbollah wants to devote its efforts to the borders. If a Lebanese state no longer exists, then Hezbollah will dominate. This is why it would be disagreeable for both the West and Israel if the situation were to slip. It is worth noting that Amal’s arms come from Hezbollah.”
So what about Syria?
The Arab expert’s response was, “Syria is worried about the outbreak of war in Lebanon. Syria was empowered in the past only when it “united” the Lebanese people and forced stability upon the state – regardless of the errors that had been committed. If Lebanon is ruined then Syria will be directly harmed.”
He added that a Syrian-Saudi-Egyptian agreement will help the Lebanese find a new definition for their state. He explained, “The Lebanese situation has become more complicated, today as we bear witness to the so-called political Sunnis and political Shiaa. In the past, Arabs believed that Christians in Lebanon should be protected, since they represent an investment, in addition to showing the West that different religions can successfully coexist. This was a better scenario than if the Christians were to immigrate, which would result in a loss of diversity. However, this understanding has weakened substantially after the Taif Agreement.”
It seems that following the occupation of Iraq, in addition to the gains that Iran reaped in the process, and after the July 2006 war, the Shiaa in Lebanon are now demanding recognition. According to the same Arab expert, the Shiaa represent “one-third of the Lebanese population and they want a one-third participation quota in the regime. This suggests the necessity of changing the Taif Agreement in the long term.”
Moreover, he upheld that the problem in Lebanon is that the Sunnis always play the role of conciliator and added that their economic interests and trade takes precedence over ideological matters. Now, Sunnis have become more ideologically driven than the rest of the parties. They have also abandoned the scene so that Hezbollah felt a pressing need to turn to General Michel Aoun. This need is not actually a necessity; however the animosity with which the Sunnis confronted others is what fortified the coalition between Aoun and Hezbollah.”
And yet, according to the Arab source who is based in Damascus, despite the fact that politicians consider Fouad Siniora to be a cleverer politician than others, he is said to have “wasted all his cards”. The source also added that Walid Jumblatt remains unforgiven by Syria notwithstanding his recent “attempts for rapprochement two months ago” whereas Saad al Hariri, head of the Future bloc, has been welcomed.
According to the Arab expert: “Syria will be content if Hariri, Aoun and Hezbollah reached an agreement. This would be the ideal situation for Syria. This way Hariri can manage the economy while the others take care of politics! But Saad has yet to make a decision.”
After stating that he could not understand the reason behind the problem between Syria and Saudi Arabia, the Arab expert said that Syria is ready to offer Saudi Arabia a regional agreement that includes Turkey and Iran, in addition to overlooking the Sunni-Shiaa issue. In this case, the Gulf region will be happy to know that there is no danger entailed and thus it would be somewhat released from US pressure.
“Iran should be contained, not provoked. We cannot deny its influence on the whole region. There are Shiaa in Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman and there is Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is best to forge an agreement with those that we cannot confront. With Turkey in the picture, Iran will become normalized. Turkey has been approached on this matter,” he said.
But why does Syria remain loyal to Iran against the Arab equation? My source answered by saying, “It simply has no other choice. If it weren’t for Iran and Qatar, its economic status would have been much worse. Oil is decreasing and the Arabs are not offering Syria anything, no aid, funding or armament. Syria feels that its geopolitical status compels it to adopt a negotiatory approach, which in turn keeps it strong politically, however; economically it is weak.”
“Syria had challenged Iran in favor [of protecting] the Gulf region. It demanded from Iranian officials that they not threaten the Gulf States publicly or else their country would be subjected to danger. Syria then issued a statement in which it said that it was striving for peace and wanted to ensure good relations between the neighboring states, because the conflicting statements have had an impact on the Gulf region. Syria believes that this confrontation is what drove Iranian officials to visit the Gulf; however, no one has mentioned the Syrian role in this context,” he added.
British writer and consultant on Middle East affairs Patrick Seale recently published an article in which he wrote that Syria is not afraid of the outcome of the tribunal, rather its fear lies in the procedures.
The Arab source also stated that, “Syria fears that tribunal may be employed for political reasons and if one of the top ranking Syrian officials were to be summoned for to give a statement, it would be considered an insult by the regime. What would happen if a senior figure were summoned to The Hague at a time when Syria does not have the same guarantees that it had in Vienna when some officials were called in for investigation? Who can guarantee that Syrian witnesses who face no charges will return? Perhaps the government would say that it requires six months to complete its investigation, for example!”
My question is: What if Syria demanded guarantees and received them, does that change the matter? Should it concede?
My source answered by saying, “Perhaps a solution could be reached since Syria is incapable of starting a major legal battle. It cannot afford to appoint prominent lawyers whose main aim would be to hinder any investigator who tries to tamper with the results of the investigation.”
“Syria has committed an error,” he explained, “with its initial reaction to Rafik Hariri’s assassination. Syrian intelligence agents demonstrated contempt and lack of consideration towards the Lebanese. Syria’s reaction to this heinous crime continued in the same vein, which was a grave error on its behalf.”
In response to Syria’s role in the selection of the Lebanese president, the source said, “The Lebanese people need to heed this simple logic: Syria does not really care whether the new Lebanese president is pro-Syrian or not, neither does it care about the process of appointment of the aforesaid president. What it does care about very much is that the president in question does not subject it to harm.”
He elaborated: “If the government in Lebanon is against Syria and all the decrees it issues are endorsed and facilitated by the Lebanese president, then all the constitutional institutions would be following the same course.”
But doesn’t Syria want to be a partner in the formation of the government? “Definitely not,” my source answered, “because the opposition has a very loud voice. Syria has realized that the Taif Agreement will not succeed in Lebanon, which is why it has frozen it! What the Lebanese have discovered now Syria had discovered previously and it had moreover created mechanisms to deal with such matters. And since the Taif Agreement did not grant the Christian president any authority, Syria gave it to him – Emil Lahoud was stronger than what the Taif Agreement allowed for and Rafik Hariri was fully aware of that.”
In answer to the question as to whether Damascus supports Lebanese Army Chief General Michel Suleiman for president, the Arab expert said, “Damascus considers Suleiman to be one of its strongest allies. His positions are clear and Syria knows well that the Americans had tried to restrain him; however Syria feels that Suleiman is strong and the situation will not be problematic.”
As for former Foreign Minister and presidential hopeful Fares Boueiz, the expert does not believe that Syria backs him: “Perhaps he presents himself in the name of Syria. Syria is aware that he maintains good relations with Walid Jumblatt.”
To minimize pressure on Lebanon, could Syria elect a president [for it] first? “It cannot influence the opposition except if it signs an agreement with Saudi Arabia in which they can agree to exchange interests and to facilitate the election of the president, put the majority in an awkward situation so that it may declare its victory and then decide how it wants the government to be formed? Syria will be harmed and the opposition would not accept it. Also it is necessary that all parties are comfortable with one another since the actions of the opposition are unreliable; how could Hezbollah confide in Aoun or Berri, for example?”
The Arab expert added that, “Syria has announced to the Arabs that “all issues will be resolved” in the [Arab] summit.” He added that Syria feels that an opportunity was lost when the French initiative was thwarted and that it expects the French to attempt to revive the initiative in any way since the Arab initiative will not succeeded because it is built on hopes and wishes only. Amr Moussa will only be conducting a few formal visits.”
To conclude, the source did not miss the chance to add that Syria does not believe that the region is headed for war and that it believes that it is unlikely for Israel to strike Iran, “except if America pressures it,” he said.