February 21, 2005 | Washington Times

Wrong Turn in Lebanon

By: Dr. Walid Phares.

When the blasts rocked Beirut, massacring former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and his companions, history was taking a new turn in Lebanon: In the hours after the barbaric killing, the dice were rolling. Muslim Sunnis were breaking away from Syrian President Bashar Assad's control, and a Sunni-Druze-Christians alliance was rising while reaching out to the Shi'ite community.

How is it that the Syrian regime, known to be a shrewd planner and a long term strategist, would commit a political suicide? Execute Hariri in daylight and wait for the funerals to take place and for the international community to react, is not at all an Assad smart move. How could the regime's elite allow such a gigantic mistake to be perpetrated?

All students of Syrian and Lebanese politics, and I have been one since 1975, would concur that something of an apocalyptic nature has occurred inside the Ba'ath Party nomenclature for such a folly to happen. No one in the Sunni community is awaiting any judicial evidence to point the finger toward the East of the Bekaa. And very few among the Christians and Druze have a shred of doubt about the perpetrators, having suffered identical losses from Kamal Jumblat to Bashir Gemayel, both assassinated by the Syrian Ba'athists over the past decades. Even clairvoyant Shi'ites have read the signs in the sands: Syria's command is out of control.

Effectively, once an occupier starts eating his past allies, the end is near, even though it would stretch its destiny further in time. Alea jacta est, (what is done is done) by assassinating the most influential politician in Lebanon today, Mr. Bashar's future in the neighboring country is set: It won't have one anymore. The Ba'athist occupation of Lebanon is three decades long. The end of the Cold War didn't remove the Syrian Anchluss from Lebanon. A relic from the Soviet era, the Assad regime systematically annihilated its Christian-Lebanese opponents andpressed Muslim-Lebanese politicians between his own terror and Hezbollah's terrorism. As in Iraq and Syria, a “Republic of Fear” was thriving in Lebanon until September 11. With America waking up to the terror threat worldwide, Ba'athist Syria tried to dodge the new era. It was a terror regime protecting terrorist organizations, but wasn't upgraded to the axis of evil yet. It was given a chance to change, reform and withdraw from Lebanon.

It didn't. It maintained its occupation of Lebanon and opened its borders to the anti-Democracy terror in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq. But the world around Damascus was changing as Saddam was removed, his Ba'ath dismantled and 8 million Iraqi voterscolored their fingers in blue a month ago. With the death of Yasser Arafat, Palestinians moved further away from Mr. Assad's diktat, and elected their own president, Mahmoud Abbas. Thesurviving Ba'ath was left with his last two victims: The peoples of occupied Lebanon and oppressed Syria.

In September, while the idea was suggested by a vigorous Lebanese diaspora, both Washington and Paris introduced a resolution in the U.N. Security Council calling on Syria to withdraw its troops from its neighbor's territories. Rafiq Hariri saw the opportunity to get loose from the grip. So did Walid Jumblat, the Druze leader. Mr. Hariri resigned, signaling to French President Jacques Chirac that Lebanon's civil society has basically given the green light for the international community to help. Hence, UNSCR 1559 was born in New York, the city of September 11. The Syrian Ba'ath saw it in red, the color of blood.

In the fall, a car bomb almost killed former Minister MarwanHamade, close-ally to Jumblat. The Druze political rebellion was on. Along with the already embattled Christians, the widening opposition reached out to Mr. Hariri, the Sunni tycoon. The troika was forming slowly, and heading toward Lebanon's upcoming legislative elections in May. Damascus predicted a victory for the “allies,” and saw the nightmare of a returning Mr. Hariri with a national unity cabinet. Reading well into the future, the Ba'athist mind knew that such a leadership would ask the Security Council to pull Syria out, by force if needed. The Ba'ath cannotabandon the Lebanese prey, becausethe regimewould subsequently collapse inside the “Reich” itself.

Hence the Ba'athist mind had made its choice, implacably, to eliminate the pillars of Lebanese liberation as the international campaign was building at the horizon. That is pre-emptive strike. They knew that killing Mr. Hariri would be bad for them, but his freedom was worse. Damascus' plan is apocalyptic. If they go down, they will take everyone with them, or so they plan. Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East. But in contrast, with the survival of the French capital as the Nazis withdrew, the Ba'athists wants chaos and blood to spread if their forces are compelled to flee. They don't want to see reconstruction after their departure, but Hizbollah's wrath, and an endless violence. They want the Lebanese and the world to regret their “iron presence.”

Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington and a Professor of Middle East Studies.



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