Who's Online

We have 322 guests online

Popular

3812 readings
Chaos Again for Lebanon? PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Sunday, 18 December 2005 02:43

Chaos Again for Lebanon?

Agence Global - Patrick Seale - What are the danger signals? First and foremost is the unprecedented spate of murders and attempted murders of prominent politicians and media personalities, following the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, last February. These killings have created an atmosphere of panic.

www.agenceglobal.com

Is Lebanon Heading for Catastrophe?
Patrick Seale


Agence Global
December 18, 2005

[Copyright 2005 Patrick Seale, Agence Global - republished with permission of Agence Global.]


Located at the storm-centre of the Middle East, Lebanon is in danger of succumbing to a lethal combination of internal, regional and international conflicts. Will this small and vulnerable country sink once more into chaos?

At the heart of the problem lies Lebanon's umbilical, love-hate relationship with its Syrian neighbour. When Syria comes under great pressure -- as is at present the case -- the repercussions in Lebanon are immediate.

What are the danger signals? First and foremost is the unprecedented spate of murders and attempted murders of prominent politicians and media personalities, following the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, last February. These killings have created an atmosphere of panic.

A second ominous feature of the scene is the sharp deterioration in relations between Beirut and Damascus, with exchanges of insults and threats. A leading Lebanese journalist, Joseph Samaha, writing in the Beirut daily Al-Safir last week, said that relations had reached the point of no return.

Thirdly, there are alarming signs that a hard-line Christian faction, known as the Lebanese Forces, is rearming clandestinely, no doubt because it feels threatened by Muslim militias, notably that of the Shiite movement Hizballah and of armed Palestinian groups. The Lebanese army, made up of different sects, seems unable to impose its will on these rival movements.

Fourthly, external interventions in Lebanon have reached a new height -- whether by the United States, France, Israel, the UN -- in some cases encouraged and invited in by Lebanese factions themselves.

All this suggests that a new phase of the 'struggle for Lebanon' is taking place, which bears a marked resemblance to the crisis of the early 1980s when, following Israel's invasion of 1982, a concerted attempt was made to remove Syrian influence from Lebanon and substitute that of Israel and the United States. Syria fought back and the attempt failed.

Since most of the victims of the current campaign of assassination were opponents of Syria, the finger has inevitably been pointed at Syria. The UN commission of enquiry into Hariri's killing, led by the German judge Detlev Mehlis, reached the tentative conclusion that Syria was deeply implicated. But the case against Syria is circumstantial. It has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt. A possibility which has not yet been explored is that one of Syria's intelligence services may have been penetrated and manipulated to commit the murders -- perhaps by Israel -- so as to put the blame on Syria. Investigations are continuing. Judge Mehlis is withdrawing, but the commission's mandate has been extended for a further six months.

If Syria committed the murders, the consequences seem at first glance highly counter-productive. They have aroused anger and hate in Lebanon, a country with which Syria needs to have close strategic relations. They have created an unfortunate environment for Syria's ambitious economic reform programme on which its future economic health depends.

The murders have also put Syria in the dock of world opinion, blackening its name, and subjecting it to great international pressures.

Let us attempt, however, to see the situation from the Syrian point of view.

If the Syrians kill their political opponents, they would argue that so does everyone else. The Israelis murder their Palestinian opponents on a daily basis and no one makes a fuss about it. They even announce publicly that their policy is one of targetted assassinations! The Israelis are by no means alone. The United States and Britain wage an illegal war against a major Arab country, kill tens of thousands of people, arrest and torture a great number, completely without scruple. No doubt Syria sees criticism of its behaviour as a flagrant example of double standards.

A second point to bear in mind is that Lebanon is of crucial importance to Syria. If a hostile power -- say, the United States, Israel or even France -- were to gain a dominant influence in Lebanon and expell Syria's influence altogether, this would constitute a gun at Syria's head. It would be a potential death sentence for the Syrian regime.

Syria cannot afford to see a hostile power establishing itself in Lebanon and using it as a base for operations against Syria. Yet this is what the world is asking of Syria. It wants it to separate itself totally from Lebanon. It is not a demand any Syrian regime could willingly accept.

This is not an invention of the Asad regime. It was true in the 1950s. It was probably true ever since France created Greater Lebanon in 1920. The security of the Syrian interior is intimately bound up with that of Lebanon.

If Syria is in fact responsible for the murders in Lebanon, we should perhaps consider that it is acting in self-defence -- at least that is how the regime in Damascus might see it. Its intention would seem to be to intimidate its enemies and to demonstrate that all those who seek to remove its influence from Lebanon do so at their peril.

One is not asking whether these murders are right or wrong -- they are obviously wicked -- but whether they serve the purpose of a beleaguered Syrian regime which believes it is fighting for its life.



Patrick Seale
is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

Copyright ? 2005 Patrick Seale, distributed by Agence Global
----------------
Released: 18 December 2005
Word Count: 854
-------------------
For rights and permissions, contact:


This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606


Agence Global
www.agenceglobal.com
1.212.731.0757 (main)
1.336.286.6606 (billing)
1.336.686.9002 (rights & permissions)

Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation and The American Prospect, as well as expert commentary by William Beeman, Richard Bulliet, Juan Cole, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.


-------------------
Advisory Release: 18 December 2005
Rights & Permissions Contact: Agence Global, 1.336.686.9002, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
-------------------

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 December 2005 02:43
 

Latest News