It was a good omen that last Monday was the last day in the month of February, which in the same time was 28 days this year. The Lebanese people can now celebrate this memory (commemorating the resignation of the cabinet) once every year, while if it came on the 29th for example the celebration would be once every four years.
However, dropping the government in such a civilized way should not make the Lebanese and the world forget that a terrible crime took place on the 14th of February and that the investigations should continue to reveal the killers. For the first time since the independence of Lebanon, the Lebanese people managed to put forward their national concordance paying no attention neither to the threats nor the accusations. In a recent interview with the Italian newspaper “La Republika”, Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad accused the Lebanese that they are a “tribal society” that is divided into sects, which are only coming together temporarily for the electoral campaign.
Currently, the situation in Lebanon has become strongly tied to some American-European agreement, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and also the situation in Iraq. Therefore, the Lebanese opposition is requested to help in the formation of an interim-government that would supervise fair and transparent elections. Such interim-government is also requested to refrain from terrorizing people through Syrian and Lebanese security apparatuses. Finally, it is requested to keep holding up the goal of evicting the Syrian forces and the Syrian intelligence, which subsequently leads to liberation of Lebanon.
When the American president George W. Bush met last week with the European leaders in Brussels, especially Chirac and Schroeder, the Europeans agreed to help the US in Iraq in return for Washington’s support to Europe in the cases of Palestine and Lebanon (in the case of the latter, it means to help expelling Syria). The Americans and Europeans agreed to press later on the Israeli Prime Minister to enter into serious negotiations with Palestinian Authority’s president Mahmoud Abbas. This is a pressing request now, especially that persons and situations that Sharon was using as justification not to talk with the Palestinians, have all disappeared” Arafat passed away, Saddam Hussein deposed and the Syrian security-military presence in Lebanon is about to leave.
This rapprochement between Europe and the United States gives both of these major actors a strong position to force Sharon to enter serious negotiations. Thus the US will be enabled to hit two birds with one rock. According to a well informed American source, the United States intention is to tell the Arabs before the Algeria summit: “If you want us to engage effectively in the Palestinian question, you have to help us in Lebanon and help Abu Mazen in the Palestinian territories.”
If this American strategy succeeds, the Syrians will have to change behavior – as what is wanted for now is to have the Syrian regime changing its behavior – or else they will be encircled by the American pressure coming from the neighboring fronts in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Israeli. Furthermore, the Kurdish card could even be played. On another front, the Syrian power in Lebanon is already starting to diminish and consequently the Syrian “strategy of fear” towards the Lebanese has started to weaken. The Lebanese opposition leaders, and particularly Walid Junblat, are openly speaking because they know that the Syrian hand has weakened. However, there is still a need for a Lebanese leadership that groups all political currents under one umbrella, because Syria, despite all indicators of weakness, is still able to play with several cards. The Shiite (Hizbullah) is one of such cards despite some doubts. The second card is the card of the pro-Syrian Sunnis and Maronites. That is why it is said that if a moderate Lebanese leadership that would not threaten anyone came to the forefront, Lebanon would surely avoid the same destiny that divided Iraq along the Sunni-Shiite lines. The Lebanese opposition has to act responsibly so as not to create a situation in Lebanon similar to what is called in Iraq the “Jalabi Syndrome” for Jalabi, was the man who shared in the creating the division in Iraq and dismantling the army in order to oust the Sunnis.
Hizbullah has both a critical role and a critical position. Therefore, the Lebanese opposition should try and make Hizbullah guarantee that his followers will not see the fate of the Iraqi Baa’thists. A Lebanese source says that among the current oppositions in Lebanon, there is an understanding of the connections of Hizbullah and their roots that stem from their position as deprived Shiites under the previous regimes. Moreover, there is the fact that the Shiites are always under suspicion in the eyes of the rest of the Arab countries. These local and external factors made the Lebanese Shiites ready to aspire to the Iranian revolution. Also they (Hizbullah) were lucky when a Lebanese president who considered them the “polar of security” at the expense of the “Army”, came to power (Emile Lahoud). The source added talking to me: “Hizbullah realizes now that there is a grand game of nations going on and that his only salvation is to highlight his Lebanese identity and seek no other.”
On their part, the Syrian mistakes have not been reflected on the Syrian position in Lebanon only, but also on their (the Syrians’) position vis-à-vis the Gulf countries too, especially among those Gulf citizens who invested money in Lebanon out of their extreme trust in Hariri. Those Gulf citizens have developed a reaction against the Syrians because they do not want Lebanon to return to the past; i.e. others engaging in war over its territory. An American source recently told me: “Syria has significantly lost in the Media war in this stage, both at the Arab and the global levels. Their insistence on extending the presidency office for president Lahoud unified the positions of America and France.”
An official Arab source also said: “We thought that France and the US will not allow the extension of presidency for Lahoud, but the Syrians decided to commit the mistake (pressing for the extension of Lahoud’s office), thus, Lebanon came under international trusteeship whether the Arabs agree or not.” He adds, “If Syria does not withdraw from Lebanon, the Americans will not take care of the negotiations between Syria and Israel over the Golan Heights. The Americans will simply tell the Syrians: “If you want the Golan Heights withdraw from Lebanon” Bush had asked them to withdraw and implement resolution 1559, if they do not, then no Golan.”
As for disarming Hizbullah, as included in resolution 1559, the Americans may negotiate this later as the main goal has to be the Syrian withdrawal, which will in itself facilitate a lot resolving the Hizbullah problem. The American source drew my attention to the fact that the US letter to Syria suggests only one of the following two options: Remain as an intact regime and leave Lebanon, or walk the footsteps of Saddam Hussein. He notes that the Romanian regime did not need tanks or jet fighters to be toppled; Ceausescu was brought down after suspected government agents killed a young priest in the remote village of “Timoshwara”. It is not unlikely that another “Timoshwara” could take place in Syria or Iran.
There are those who say that the difficulty of a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon does not arise from the military arrangements; but rather from huge financial problems as Lebanon remained until now pumping in different ways tons of money to Syria. That is why Lebanon was seen as a “gain” in the eyes of Syria. However, after the latest developments, Lebanon became a burden on the shoulders of the Syrians and will cause them problems with the whole world. Destroying Lebanon is not possible just as much as the Arabs are unable to help neither the Syrians nor the Lebanese. Yet, another Arab official insists, “Syria will do the impossible to remain in the Bekaa valley; as long as fortune is there”.
Only as a matter of drawing attention for those who may be concerned, President Bush does not need to focus on his re-election as he is already won a second and last term, and thus, he wants to have a recorded history that recognizes him as the president who weakened the extremists. Moreover, he recently reached a new conviction that the stability of the whole region is directly affected by the Palestinian case. He recently listened to a former US official who had just visited the Middle East telling him that the resolution of the Palestinian issue will lead to the resolution of 90 % of the problems of the region.
If the Syrian regime is cornered, its influence in Lebanon will fall. Also, its impact on Iraq will be much lowered. The big question remains: What could Iran do? If Iran and Syria out of desperation feel that they could (and they actually did) stir things in Iraq, they might do the same in Lebanon, especially that there will be probably no additional forces to the US troops already stationed in the region, in case of a war with either Lebanon or Syria. However, the latest news says that Washington is thinking about joining Europe in its negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program. All Iran is looking for really is to sit at a table that includes an American delegation as is the case with North Korea. If this is to take place, the Lebanese opposition leaders have a responsibility to make Hizbullah feel unthreatened. Also, they should focus on achieving a calm and honorable Syrian withdrawal from their country.
Mohamed Ansary (translator)