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Damascus: What a Pity! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has dived head first and early into the never-ending problems of our region.

Sarkozy announced that he would establish dialogue with the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad in order to offer some sense and rationality until Syria distances itself from Tehran’s mullahs and leaves Lebanon alone. The French president reiterated that he would only accept action and not words from Assad.

The truth is that the Syrian regime knows only how to talk, procrastinate and assassinate in broad daylight. Other than that, any real action has been lost at sea.

If Sarkozy believes that he is more informed than the rest of the Arab countries that have repeatedly tried to have faith in the promises of Bashar Assad to no avail, then he is surely deluded. If he thought that he could tempt the Damascene regime to change then he is surely deluded.

Sarkozy says that his patience will run out and that he will reveal all the facts. He said that he had granted Bashar a last chance to escape the state of Arab and international isolation in which Syria finds itself in. The truth is that the “others” in Damascus have misunderstood the message, according to some; nevertheless other parties claimed that they have understood the message as part of Sarkozy’s eagerness to establish rapprochement between Damascus and Tel Aviv. But the prevailing analysis is that Damascus is mistaken in its belief that the French efforts prove that it [Syria] is the most powerful and most able to instill fear in all parties. Saddam Hussein adopted the same idea when delegations were sent his way from all over the world.

Perhaps this opportunity that granted the “Damascene group” a chance to breathe is what pushed some of its supporters to wage verbal attacks against Arab countries that conflict with Bashar’s ways and his regime that is based upon subordination to Iran and spreading terrorism in Lebanon. The countries targeted the most by the propaganda of Damascus are Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Some of the latest manifestations and developments of this counter-propaganda include the uproar caused by supporters of Assad in Lebanon nowadays who state that the person who assassinated Rafik Hariri was a Saudi! Such allegations were made by the “well-mannered” Lebanese former minister Wiam Wahab who specializes in waging verbal wars against Assad’s opponents. This comment was made recently on the Lebanese channel New TV, adding that this information was leaked from the International Tribunal investigating the assassination of Hariri. As some Lebanese observers told me, the same claims were made by an Arab media figure based in Beirut who is a good friend of Hezbollah and who welcomed the revealing of this fact on air. The same comment was also made by a significant Lebanese media figure affiliated to Hezbollah to one of the most prominent journalists in the field of online journalism.

This means that a new trend has been adopted by Assad’s Syria to tarnish the image of Saudi Arabia. There are those who are willing to believe such claims. This gossip emerged around the same time since only a few days passed between Wahab’s comments and the statements made by the Arab and the Lebanese journalists. Therefore, the signs of a smear campaign were emerging.

So Saudi Arabia is responsible for the assassination of Hariri, Saudi Arabia condoned the incident and Saudi Arabia knew about it; this is what is implied by recent “chit-chat” from Syria’s supporters or the opposition in Lebanon. And what would be the point? The point is that because Hariri’s role had ended for Saudi Arabia, it needed to get rid of him (but what role and how did it end? And why was the assassination of Hariri inevitable? Why couldn’t he have resigned from practicing politics for example?) There is yet another explanation: Saudi Arabia seeks to implicate Bashar Assad’s regime since it is the most-likely suspect in the case of Hariri’s assassination. This is yet another odd interpretation that fails to mention anything about Saudi’s attempts and the personal attempts of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz to alleviate the impact of international resolutions issued against Syria after the assassination of Hariri. It also fails to mention anything about the attempts of the Saudi envoy to Damascus to make Assad understand the gravity of the situation in a vigorous attempt to save Damascus to the extent that it angered some members of the March 14 Alliance that suggested that Saudi Arabia is negligent towards Bashar and his regime.

All these attempts by the “Damascene group” aim to implicate Saudi Arabia once again as well as other moderate Arab states. The planners behind the Syrian regime believe that Saudi Arabia is suitable for this accusation of terrorism, since every terrorist act usually involves a Saudi in some way or another; thus they thought about adding the Saudi element even if the matter is as immense as the assassination of Hariri!

The issue of terrorism and its fanatic culture is a real problem that can never be escaped and should not be underestimated, however this is another issue that differs to the intentions of the Syrian regime and its mouthpiece through this new clamor.

What the planners of Assad’s regime fail to understand is that Syria is simply seeking to buy time and that changing Syria’s behavior has become an international demand and that the tribunal is now an international and legal reality that is difficult, if not impossible, to escape or erase. Furthermore, the role of Bashar’s regime regarding the Iranian alliance and its transformation into a passageway to be used by Tehran’s mullahs to seize the Middle East is a red line for the strategic security of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States. Assad’s Syria has become a Trojan horse with respect to the Iranian invasion of the region; thus from here arises the importance of the Arab countries’ confrontation with Syria in Lebanon. The issue is not only about Lebanese internal affairs, although this is a noble cause in itself, but it is also about the implications of the Lebanese political arena in the confrontation with Iran and its affiliate, Syria.

Bashar’s regime suffers from isolation and he sought to break from this isolation at the Annapolis Conference, however he quickly went back to Iranian obedience. He now seeks to use French openness to break the Arab isolation from which he suffers by using Sarkozy’s mediation with Arab states at least until the Arab Summit in Damascus is held in March. But the problem with the Syrian regime is that it is willing to take but not to give. In addition, its more serious problem is that it believes in its ability to bypass all Arabs and that it can both have its cake and eat it! There is now talk about Israeli support of the Syrian regime and a new shift in preference for the Syrian path over other paths and even wagers on the Syrian regime for the sake of stability in Israel even if this means sacrificing the cause of Lebanon’s independence. How bizarre! However, we are experiencing a period of Syrian surrealism. The Haaretz newspaper revealed that the Israeli Foreign Ministry had prioritized the Syrian issue for the new year. On December 28 2007, the newspaper published some information obtained from senior political officials in Israel that stated that Israel plans to brush Syria off the list of countries that form the “axis of evil”. In previous statements, Ehud Olmert said “Israel is awaiting a response from Syria on resuming talks between the two sides.”

Syria is pleased with this transition. In a telephone conversation with the Al Arabiya channel, Israeli journalist Shlomo Ganor said, “There is indirect contact between Syria and Israel through intermediaries such as Germany and Turkey. All that is published does not reflect the nature of the contact that is taking place between the two countries.”

However, the Syrian regime imagines that it could eliminate all its real problems by relying on the Israeli card, although we do not really know the position of Ahmadinejad’s Iran regarding the flirting that is taking place between Assad and Olmert yet we recall the secret flirting that took place in the recent past between Israel and Khomeini’s Iran.

To sum up, what is happening now is an attempt by Assad’s regime to invest in this environment of openness − according to its own judgment − in order to seize the grip once again on Lebanon, making verbal promises and implicating Saudi Arabia that is troublesome and embarrassing court to Syria’s subversive plans. There is a fierce war taking place under the table that has been waged by the Damascene group and its supporters against Saudi Arabia and this war is on the verge of becoming open to the public. The first signs manifested in the story of Wiam Wahab who spoke about Saudi Arabia assassinating Rafik Hariri.

It’s a pity what Damascus has become.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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