Undiplomatic behaviour
The Ottawa Citizen
Monday, August 25, 2003

Ambassador's conduct raises doubts about whom he really serves

The admission by Lebanon's ambassador to Canada, Raymond Baaklini, that his embassy actively monitors Canada's Lebanese community is to be welcomed. The federal government now knows what he is: an agent provocateur. The interesting question is: On whose behalf is Mr. Baaklini monitoring Lebanese-Canadians?

Mr. Baaklini revealed his activities to the Montreal-based Arabic-language newspaper, Sada al Machric. The admission came in response to the paper's obvious set-up question about a "group of Lebanese agents" arriving in Canada with "Lebanese blood on their hands." The ambassador responded: "We heard rumours and tried to investigate, but we do not have a clear picture on this issue at all ... There is a very small group (in the Lebanese-Canadian community) that is of the opinion that the salvation of Lebanon lays in the hands of Israel and that has relations with Zionist groups here in Canada."

Zionist, in the Arab lexicon, is code for Jew. So Mr. Baaklini was effectively accusing members of Canada's Lebanese community of associating with Jews. Mr. Baaklini's remarks constitute a form of intimidation against residents of Canada. They also go some way to explaining Lebanon's imprisonment of Bruce Balfour, a Calgary man being held in a Beirut jail because he had an Israeli visa stamp on his passport; that is, he too dared to associate with Jews. His imprisonment is likely also payback for Canada having outlawed the terrorist organization Hezbollah late last year.

Let us explain: First the Lebanese government accuses Mr. Balfour, a Canadian, of "crimes of collaborating with the enemy." Back in Canada, Mr. Baaklini tries to intimidate Lebanese-Canadian groups that have spoken out in Mr. Balfour's defence. Mr. Baaklini's undiplomatic behaviour may well reflect a deliberate geo-political policy: the suppression of pro-reform voices in the Lebanese diaspora, especially those voices that oppose Syria's occupation of Lebanon.

Syria's reduction of Lebanon to client-state status is the dirty little secret of the Middle East. Syrian forces have occupied Lebanon since the beginning of the civil war in 1975. Even now, 35,000 Syrian soldiers control large swaths of territory in Lebanon's eastern and northern regions. Through its support of Lebanon-based terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Syria is able to threaten Israel without directly challenging the Jewish state. Lebanon is a vassal state much like Vichy France under the Germans.

Syria's occupation has provoked hardly any protest from the rest of the Arab world, although anti-Syrian sentiment has been growing within Lebanon. There have even been demonstrations against the occupiers. A few religious and political leaders have called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops. Such ideas are, of course, ruthlessly suppressed by Syria's secret police, the Mukhabaraat.

Mr. Baaklini's conduct suggests he is part of the campaign to suppress opposition to the Syrian presence in Lebanon. Because Syria effectively controls Lebanon, it's unlikely Mr. Baaklini would have been appointed ambassador if he did not have pro-Syrian sympathies. Thus, it is reasonable to regard Mr. Baaklini as a de facto agent of Syria, and now that he has admitted to using his embassy to intimidate Canadian residents, it is time to declare him persona non grata and send him home, wherever that may be.

Copyright 2003 The Ottawa Citizen