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Syrian Build Up on Lebanese Borders – Analysis | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – To understand the reasons for the Syrian deployment on Lebanon’s northern borders, we should first determine the features of the Syrian political trends, particularly during the period of the rule of the late President Hafiz al-Assad.

The late president knew his place well in the international game as well as the regional game. He could also identify a permanent enemy or a temporary friend. The late al-Assad precisely knew the balance of power and he coexisted within it and worked patiently to rectify this balance. He deeply knew that the rectification of the balance of power does not necessarily mean victory over the enemy, but is restricted to the preservation of his right to participate in the important decisions. If he could not participate in the important decisions, he could pass the message that he was capable of obstructing these decisions.

The late President Hafiz al-Assad changed the description given by the British journalist Patrick Seale in his book, “The Struggle for Syria” to a reality which made Syria the crux of the struggle in the region. Thus Syria appeared to be much bigger than its real capabilities.

In view of the limited Syrian strategic capabilities, the late President Hafiz al-Assad sponsored a supreme strategy that is based on two major ingredients. One of the ingredients was the sponsorship of the strategy of the shield and the other ingredient was the strategy of the sword. He used the strategy of the shield when Syria faced an inconvenient environment and circumstances and sought to protect itself. During these inconvenient circumstances Syria depended on alternate forces from outside Syria in line with the strategy of British thinker Basil Liddell Hart. In line with this strategy, Syria ignored its responsibility and made the other party bleed. This was the case during the Israeli storming of Lebanon in 1982 and afterward.

Meanwhile, Syria used the strategy of the sword to neutralize the power of the adversary for its own benefit after making him bleed through the strategy of the shield, after which it pounced on him to deal the final blow. This was what Syria did with Israel after Israel stormed Lebanon. Syria supported the resistance and created Hezbollah as an expression of the strategy of the shield, and used the strategy of the sword by its military return to Lebanon in the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal. The Syrian military entrance into Lebanon meant that the 17 May agreement was finished. This strategy opened the door widely for Syria to control Lebanon until 2005 when Syria withdrew from Lebanon. Following its military withdrawal from Lebanon, Syria suffered acute crises and attempts to weaken it and change its attitude or change the regime itself if this was possible. At this point President Bashar al-Assad took over to replace his father, the late President Hafiz al-Assad, and applied the same strategy. He protected himself, his regime and Syria by using the strategy of the shield. The question here is: Does the Syrian military deployment on Lebanon’s northern borders represent the second ingredient of the supreme strategy, namely, the strategy of the sword?

It should be pointed out that Syria is saying that the aim of deploying these forces is to stop smuggling and to disrupt the infiltration of the Salafis. Syria has made an advance notification to the Lebanese army command, according to a statement issued by the Lebanese army command on the deployment. Moreover, anti smuggling does not need this large number of troops or sophisticated forces, such as the Special Forces. Additionally, it is Syria’s right to stop the infiltration of the Salafis. However, experience has taught us that the war against terrorism requires intelligence and forces other than the Special Forces. What it usually needed are the police forces.

It should be recalled that during the Nahr al-Barid battles, Syria closed down the borders, but did not deploy regular forces in large numbers and superior quality. Nonetheless, Syria is now deploying these forces without closing the borders. Syria is doing this openly and is accompanying it with intensive media coverage.

The “burning” question remains unanswered: Will Syria enter Lebanon?

One can say that under the present circumstances, Syria will not enter into Lebanon because the international and local Lebanese circumstances do not allow such entry as was the case in 1976 when Syria entered Lebanon within the framework of the Kissinger Plan. Moreover, a Syrian military entry into Lebanon requires the mobilization of various forces to spearhead the entry, such as artillery and armored vehicles. Last but not least, a Syrian military entry into Lebanon requires green lights from many countries, particularly Israel and the United States, as well as a convincing reason, such as the total collapse of the security situation.

What is then the goal behind the military deployment?

The goal may involve Syrian domestic reasons or lack of satisfaction by Damascus with what is happening in Lebanon. Is Syria currently excluded from the drive toward reconciliation? And what is the meaning of receiving Lebanese leaders in Syria, which is something that contradicts the principle of opening embassies?

Is it a message to those who are concerned that the deployment in northern Lebanon could be repeated in eastern Lebanon? Has there been any regional changes involving Iran? Will Syria test the reaction of the concerned French, Arab and US parties to determine how far it could stretch itself? A look from above to the events taking place in the region and the world makes us reach the following conclusions?

– The United States and Israel are undergoing a political paralysis. Russia has opened the doors of the conflict over the leadership of the world after the war it fought against Georgia. Small countries are now having a variety of options. The pressure on Syria has receded and time is now working in Syria’s favor.

Will Syria act and prepare the ground for making its own decisions in the post Bush era? Perhaps.

Is Syria collecting the chips of power? Perhaps.

Is Lebanon involved in this? Of course.

Syria without Lebanon is an ordinary player. But with Lebanon, it is an important and influential regional player. However, what is more important is what the Lebanese will do. Will the reconciliation among the Lebanese be a truthful one, or will it remain, as they say in the colloquial, a “superficial laughingstock?”