It is generally assumed that states, like individuals, benefit from their mistakes, and evaluate their experiences, especially when dealing with particular issues. However, this is not the case with the Syrian position, in terms of dealing with Lebanon, specifically the International Tribunal, and nominations for the next Prime Minister.
Regarding the parliamentary ruling [in 2004] to extend former Lebanese President Emile Lahoud’s term in office, Damascus insisted on him staying in power at any price, knowing that it would then be easier to bring in another pro-Syrian President afterwards. At the time, Damascus seemed as if it was playing in accordance with the rules of the game in Lebanon. Syria ignored all warnings and extended Lahoud’s term in office, in what was considered to be a landslide Syrian victory. However, what actually happened was to the contrary. The move was costly for Damascus and brought serious consequences, consequences which ultimately came to a head when the Syrian President announced, in front of his parliament, that his country had made mistakes in Lebanon. On that same day, he even announced his intention to withdraw the Syrian army from there!
Today, Lebanese affairs are following the same pattern, whereby Damascus is repeating its mistakes. In the event that Hezbollah’s project is victorious, in its attempt to seize the whole of Lebanon, Syria will be the loser. If the situation erupted – and this is both likely and expected – then the Syrians will pay the price and take the blame. If Hezbollah’s project is victorious, Tehran will be in control, and Iran will reap the fruits of this success, not Damascus. In such a case no one would go to Syria to negotiate, but instead everyone – yes everyone – would negotiate with Iran, instead of Syria. Why would there be a mediator so long as Iran is the dominant force? This is what Iran is explicitly seeking, and has told the West very clearly, amidst the backdrop of negotiations surrounding its nuclear program. Tehran’s search for a regional role must be recognized by the West, because it holds the keys to the troubled areas of the region, and this is no secret!
If the Iranian project was to fail in Lebanon, the situation may still erupt, and this [eruption] is expected as I said previously. Damascus would bear the consequences of this, faced by the Lebanese first and foremost. This would deepen the gap between the two neighbors, and it would subsequently be difficult to build any wall of confidence between the Syrians and the Arabs, and matters would worsen. Arabs will deal with Damascus in accordance with past experiences, rather than listening to its promises and the same can be said of the West. Furthermore, such a scenario would also create tensions within Syria itself, and this is an obvious matter which does not require further analysis.
Hezbollah’s control over Lebanon would inevitably fuel sectarian sentiments, and awaken the Sunni fundamentalist giant, which is currently stirring and has a genuine presence. Then it would not matter whether Hezbollah had light or heavy arms with which to intimidate its opponents, for it only takes one extremist to have the same impact as an artillery assault. This is something we have seen in sectarian conflicts throughout the Arab and Islamic world, and we have witnessed the extent of its damage.
Syria’s interpretation of the current situation is a dangerous one, because it is an old interpretation of a new case; or rather it has not developed over time. The current situation comes in light of changing global conditions, and dramatic changes in the rules of the game, while following up on the daily occurrences will stop many from asking the question; when will they learn?