Syria’s President [Bashar al-Assad] gave a warm welcome to his guest Saad al-Hariri during his visit to Damascus; however information about their meeting is extremely scarce. This was a meeting that took place following estrangement and hostility, and therefore this was a meeting that was different than the meetings held by their fathers, the men are different and both have been toughened by harsh conditions.
However Lebanon remains just as important to the Syrians as before, if not more so, while Lebanon’s sensitivity towards Syrian interference [in their affairs] has also increased. Damascus today is moving closer to Lebanon once more at a time following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and when there is an overwhelming Iranian presence [in the region], and Hezbollah is developing. In addition to this, Syria has been subject to violent tremors during the past 5 years with regards to the tension that has prevailed with both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and the manner in which Damascus left Lebanon. This is not to mention Syria’s dispute with the US and the International Tribunal, and the embarrassing strikes made against the country by Israel, as well as the assassinations that have taken place on its territory.
As for Lebanon, it also has a background of assassinations, including Rafik al-Hariri and others, and there is concern for the internal situation caused by Hezbollah who are more concerned about Iran [than Lebanon] and this means that Lebanon is a front that may potentially flare up at any moment. In the Lebanese mind, the last occupier [of the country] is not Syria, but is in fact Hezbollah, who occupied Beirut [in 2008]. Of course, it is wrong to look at the al-Hariri visit from a personal point of view, for after all he is the Prime Minister of Lebanon, and he could not be in this post without visiting Syria. The Prime Minister of Lebanon – regardless of who he is – has three options; Damascus, Israel, or the sea. Syria is the least damaging of these options, and therefore both parties, al-Assad and al-Hariri, held a meeting at a time that they are both extremely [politically] fatigued and in fact were compelled [by circumstance] to meet.
Therefore al-Assad was not flattering [towards Lebanon], and al-Hariri did not hold back in his talk about Damascus, for this [meeting] was something imposed by the regional conditions, and above all else the efforts exerted by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz towards Arab reconciliation. We must not forget that there is a Syrian desire to move towards the peace process, and it is a good thing that the meeting between al-Hariri and al-Assad took place before any progress has been made in the Israeli – Syrian negotiations as this ensures that Lebanon does not become part of this agreement, as well as preventing the country from being presented to Damascus on a silver platter, especially as the Syrians want US mediation with the Israelis, as has been revealed recently.
To understand the regional situation, we must also recall that there is Syrian – Turkish rapprochement, and this comes at a time when Iran alone is stirring the problems in our region, and it has a sniper waiting for the opportune moment to make things worse. This is not to mention the fire that is raging inside the Iranian house, and all of this could rebound not just onto Syria, but Lebanon as well. This is why it is important that Lebanon has a Prime Minister who is capable of walking on the razors edge until the situation in the region becomes clearer, especially as Lebanon is potentially one of the fronts that may become inflamed, as explained previously.
Of course here there is an important question, and that is; who can guarantee that Syria will not play its previous role in Lebanon?
The best answer to this is what al-Hariri said in Damascus when he said “we are the guarantee” in other words that the Lebanese are the best guarantee for their country, but unfortunately not all of the Lebaense are Lebanese.