HARIRI'S RESIGNATION,A STEP TOWARDS SYRIAN ISOLATION IN LEBANON?
By: Dr. Walid Phares
Prime Minister Hariri's resignation was another step towards Syria's isolation in Lebanon. The Sunni head of the Cabinet dismantled his Government, opening the path for the pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to select another Muslim politician more in line with Damascus- to fill the gap. This resignation would have been a normal change of guards had the transition been in normal times. But Hariri's quit came in the midst of a series of political moves indicating an escalating crisis.
Most of it started last March, when Diaspora-based Lebanese groups lobbied Washington and the Security Council for a new UN resolution calling on Syria to withdraw from the occupied country. At the time, Damascus didn't give credibility to the campaign. But the Bush Administration has been sending message after the other to President Bashar Assad asking for disengagement in Iraq, initiating withdrawal from Lebanon, and severing relationships with Hizbollah and the Palestinian Terror groups. The ruling Mukhabarat in Syria, surrounding Assad with their real power, dismissed the American frustration with Syria and ignored the warnings. Big mistake
By the end of the summer, the Security Council issued UNSCR 1559, calling for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and the disarming of Hizbollah. Assad's allies in Lebanon waged a media campaign to counter the UN resolution. Beirut's satellite regime dispatched the Deputy Prime Minister, Issam Faris to lobby the Bush family, with whom he used to have an old friendship. Not to avail. Faris, a Christian Orthodox from North Lebanon, was barely able to take a picture with President G W Bush at the United Nations. The US position was firm and clear.
The Baathist rigidity became a trap for its own interests. Damascus advisors have been convincing Bashar that he will survive while Bush will be replaced at the White House, by a friendlier new President. These foreign policy analysts, some among whom are Washington insiders, simply banked on a Kerry victory, which would insure additional time for the Syrian regime. However they didn't factor two other elements.
One, an internal Lebanese factor, was their determination to extend President Lahoud's mandate, stretching the Lebanese constitution beyond accepted limits. By doing so, they broke one pillar backing their role in Lebanon. They frustrated two allies: The powerful Druze leader Walid Jumblat and the once helpful Sunni Prime Minister Hariri. But the Syrian bulldozer (mahdalah) had no time for details. They forced the dominated Lebanese parliament to vote for constitutional amendments imposing the most pro-Syrian figure for few more years at the head of the state.
The second Syrian miscalculation was in international relations. Not only was the US unsatisfied with Damascus, but also their long time ally, France. By re-imposing Lahoud, they crossed the lines with their Druze and Sunni allies. The complicated Lebanese labyrinth is now cracking from all sides. Hariri is a main associate of President Chirac of France. Dislodging his political power meant hurting French economic influence. In return, France co-sponsored Resolution 1559 with the United States, while it was and remains the main opponent of Washington in Iraqi affairs. In a sum, Assad lost allies here and there.
Hariri and the other marginalized leaders are after all, shrewd Lebanese politicians. They know the US is determined to remove Syria from Lebanon. They feel that the Lebanese Diaspora is mounting an all out campaign for the liberation of the country, and they witnessed the French U-turn on Syria. Few days ago, a straw broke the back of the camel. The UN Security Council issued a strong Presidential letter reiterating the objectives of UNSCR 1559. While the actual resolution was voted with a majority but not unanimity, the subsequent letter was signed by all 15 members. The development is crucial in diplomatic terms.
Back in September, six countries, including Algeria Syria's closer friend at the Security Council- abstained from voting. Brazil, Russia, Philippines, Pakistan and China abstained as well. But in the following weeks, Lebanese Diaspora groups camped at the UN headquarters in Manhattan and lobbied the abstaining Governments. The Lebanese Diaspora is omnipresent in Brazil as well as in Australia, the Philippines main ally against terrorism. The Lebanese groups, including the World Lebanese Cultural Union (international federation) did their homework. Damascus analysts didn't.
The UN letter on Monday sealed the encirclement of Syria. All those who abstained from voting for 1559, -voted for it by signing the letter. The most significant ones were Algeria, representing the Arab bloc at the UN, Brazil, Syria's main ally in Latin America and Russia, Damascus first international backer. The blast from New York exploded in Beirut. Hariri quit the boat, followed by others. The Christian opposition has already discredited Lahoud. By now, Syrian political influence is sitting on hot potatoes: The isolated Baath of Lebanon, the internationally wanted Terror group Hizbollah and 30,000 illegal Syrian troops and Mukhabarat. All what Assad left for him is the hope to see George Bush ousted on November 2.
Will that be the last miscalculation as well?