Analysis: Syria’s allies take their allotted places


By Michael Young

If there were doubts that the rivalry between Syria and Hizbullah has reached new levels of complication, then consider the recent statements by the Parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, and the Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Berri and Jumblatt seemed to be reading from the same songbook when they declared recently (Jumblatt in his weekly Al-Anbaa editorial) that one had to distinguish between the work of the tribunal and any indictment it might issue. This was subtle, but not so subtle that the public failed to miss that both men were effectively rejecting the view expressed by Hizbullah’s secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, that the institution itself was an “Israeli project.”

In his speech on Tuesday commemorating the 32nd anniversary of Imam Musa al-Sadr’s disappearance, Berri avoided criticizing the tribunal, and took a number of political stances marking his distance from Hizbullah. He insisted that the “project of the state” was a Shiite interest, implicitly censuring Hizbullah’s efforts to undermine state authority; he affirmed that Lebanon “respected its engagements with regard to implementation of Resolution 1701” and emphasized the “close human relations between the inhabitants [of the south] and UNIFIL forces.” And he defended Taif as “our constitution,” repeating that its clauses on deconfessionalization awaited implementation.

It is ironic that Berri’s stalwart defense of the Lebanese state and its sovereignty should only serve to strengthen the hand of Syria in the struggle over Lebanon’s future, the same Syria that ravaged both the state and its sovereignty during its 29-year military presence.

In that light, it appears increasingly clear that the Burj Abi Haidar incident last week was less a Hizbullah signal directed at Damascus that it would not bend in the face of Syrian pressures, than a message from Syria to Hizbullah. As the fighting began, there was military mobilization in Sunni neighborhoods around Burj Abi Haidar, with Syria’s allies there bringing out their weapons. Hizbullah was reportedly bewildered by the sudden proliferation of armed groups lining up against the party, even as its units were being bussed into the area where the clashes were occurring. Hizbullah not only had to swallow the killing of two officials, it was unable, or not allowed, to enter the perimeter around the Ahbash mosque in Burj Abi Haidar.

Syria’s President Bashar Assad tends to work from the same template as his father when it comes to Lebanon. In 1985-86, Hafez Assad engineered a return of Syrian soldiers to western Beirut, from where they had been compelled to withdraw by the Israelis in 1982. Assad managed this by allowing pro-Syrian militias in that part of the city, principally Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party and Berri’s Amal movement, to go at each other with vicious abandon. Western Beirut effectively reverted to a state of nature, until the Sunni elite asked Assad for help. He was glad to oblige, and in 1985 he deployed intelligence agents in the capital, and a year later his army returned.

It was lost on no one what Wi’am Wahhab announced after the Burj Abi Haidar incident. Wahhab’s sole reason for existing, evidently, is to issue statements clarifying the Syrian mindset, or at least that of the intelligence agencies, and he warned that Syria would intervene using all possible means to prevent a Sunni-Shiite conflict in Lebanon. Not surprisingly, Berri and Jumblatt simultaneously played up the sectarian nature of the Burj Abi Haidar incident, at a moment when Hizbullah was busily trying to portray it as a personal quarrel.

It would be too simplistic to suggest that the Syrians provoked the Hizbullah-Ahbash confrontation in order to bring their army back to Lebanon. Bashar Assad would like to do so, because only a military presence allows him to truly control the country and regain the Lebanese card regionally. However, such a process requires time, careful preparation regionally and internationally, and patience. For now the Syrians are focusing on gaining leverage against Hizbullah, which holds the political and military initiative in the country.

It appears that Saad Hariri, who hoped to use the outrage over Burj Abi Haidar to demilitarize the capital, was forced to backtrack by Syria. In a meeting with Assad earlier this week, the prime minister apparently heard from the Syrian president that it was important to maintain calm in Lebanon, but also to preserve the resistance. Consequently, the demilitarization proposal was placed on the backburner at a meeting on Tuesday of the Higher Defense Council. Instead, the council discussed reinforcing the Lebanese Army, whose performance last week was disparaged by neighborhood residents.

It is interesting that Hariri should have raised the issue of demilitarizing the capital. The prime minister is still awaiting a decision from the prosecutor of the special tribunal, in the hope that this will allow him to extract concessions from Hizbullah. So too are the Syrians. But it’s by no means certain that Hariri and Assad see eye to eye on what to demand. Demilitarization of the capital is Hariri’s indirect way of indicating that he will support Hizbullah as a resistance force in south Lebanon, but not the party’s takeover of the rest of the country. The Syrians probably agree with this, because ultimately their objective is to use Hizbullah in the south, too, while they themselves take over the rest of the country. However, by making Hariri play down his demilitarization demand, Assad was plainly suggesting that Syria alone is entitled to raise that matter.

The maneuvering continues between Syria and Hizbullah, with Iran watching from the wings. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is supposed to visit Beirut in the foreseeable future. Will that trip go ahead as planned? The answer will tell us a great deal about the depth of the dissonance between Damascus and Tehran over Lebanon.

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR and author of “The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggle” (Simon & Schuster).




12 responses to “Analysis: Syria’s allies take their allotted places”

  1. Too bad Syria and Iran do not share borders. They would have taken their quarrel over there w rayyahuuna. BUT NO we have idiots who would by proxy do it for them in Lebanon.

    Failed nation!

    1. why dont they all just leave us alone!

      Qu’israel, la syrie, l’iran s’occupent de leur pays et leur peuple et nous laisse vivre tranquille et en paix!!!!

      unfortunatley every single lebanese politician just plays into their hands! tfou

      1. Cathy, we are the sexy one,lol

    2. evry democracy in the world the elected politicians work for the interrest of there country first except for lebanon the politicians working for there own self interrest that is why they colaborate with outsiders lebaneese people need to wake up and bring all those corrupted politicians to justice and demand there resignation and elect an honarable honest people that place there country first

  2. Leborigine Avatar

    …….and people ask me why my feelings towards those two nations are on par as to Israel’s??! If the above is not enough reason, then medical assistance is advised!

    1. on par is they key word but many here would use the word “greater”, which is a big mistake, because none of of who cited want good for lebanon.

    2. you know why Lebanon is called “balad akhou Charmouta? because his sister is Syria :))) reading the above,only you have to use the proper vulgar vocabulary that i hate use and is :Charmata bel sisyese” from all , as one say in one of Fairouz famous opera “Iza ma btikbar ma bitzghar, bas bi hal balad btikbar ma bitooud tizghar” , because our politicians are so low and low and scums and without dignity and one grain of Nationalism, slaves to their envies and desire for power at any expense , stealing and living the luxury life , Machiavellian bastards , son of bastards all of them.Kissing the shoes of the Turk the Syrians after 30 years of occupation and humiliation,and the people so hopeless !! disgusting this country !!!if it qualifies to be named a country, I could see the Syrian coming back certainly !!!

  3. Tony Smith Avatar

    Living in peace is a very long shot.Unfortunately we are surrounded by enemies from the north to the south and a devided country.

    1. we are not surrounded by any enemies, you are surrounded by a corrupted politicians and very corrupted people that have no grain of nationalism,this country have few who are loyal only to it and the rest are singing their own songs following their own tribes, the seed is corrupted and nothing will change,when you are not in control of your destiny someone else will control it ,let them start their tribal fight and again someone will be asking Syria to interfere .I remember CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper was interviewing a Syrian lady in Damascus after 2005 withdrawal and asking her what she thinks , and she said we will be back, Lebanese are not capable to rule themselves they are to tribal,and she ‘s right regardless of what we think that we are Phoenicians and the best and Paris of the middle east but all doesn’t matter if an Illiterate Syrian soldier has to come to put things in order .Can someone tell me why we re-elect on and on the same people that have blood on their hands and the same one that started the war and are capable to re-start it again, why we keep electing he bastards again and again, because we are hopeless and too busy with our fake nationalism that we pretend to have

  4. I have a feeling this site is more anti-Syrian than pro-[part of]Lebanon … What are all these Israeli ads doing here? Jeez … you are extremely dubious … can’t you at least try to ‘look’ ‘balanced’?

    1. Leb-Syrian Avatar

      Elias, yalibnan doesnt choose which ads are displayed on their website, they are automatically chosen by google.

    2. take it easy budy,half the moslem world is talking to Israel,including Qatar, biggest country Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia under the table, just tpo let you know over 70 % of the Split System Air conditioning used in the Middle East and all Lebanon is made in Israel,it comes labeled under different country name, Israel export medicine to the Arab world and food.Stop wasting your energy for an Advertise and grow up little.

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