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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

One dinner closer to unity

10 August, 2010 - 00:00
THE KING OF SAUDI ARABIA ABDULLAH BIN ABDUL AZIZ AND PRESIDENT OF SYRIA BASHAR ASSAD ARRIVE IN BEIRUT ON THE SAME PLANE / REUTERS photo

One year ago, it would have been unimaginable: the king of Saudi Arabia and the president of Syria arriving to Lebanon together to prevent another outburst of violence. It looked as if the assassination of Rafic Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon, in 2005 had spoiled their relations for years to come.

One should note that the assassination of Hariri, who was perceived as a pro-Saudi politician and even a subject of the kingdom, brought his small, beautiful country to the brink of another civil war. This conforms to Lebanon’s political tradition: each important politician is backed by another country, or, as they say, “regional force”: Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Libya (until Gaddafi shifted his attention to Africa), and even, at one point, Israel.

Moreover, Lebanese politicians (who are supported by their ethnic or denominational communities rather than by “general voters”) often switch alliances. Thus, the leader of the Druze community Walid Jumblatt supported Syria before Hariri’s assassination, blamed it afterwards, and now came back to Syria’s side.

By the way, the late Hariri was himself backed by Syria for some time, and welcomed its military presence in the country. Thus, the blame for Hariri’s murder was instantly shifted on Syria — with the US and France (the former colonizer) setting the tone. They were followed by Saudi Arabia, which resented the fact that Syria’s military presence in Lebanon failed to protect the popular politician.

Lebanon itself split into several camps: those who demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops (which were performing a joint Arab peacekeeping mission after the civil war), those demanding a full restoration of state sovereignty (there were no formal diplomatic ties between both countries, all decisions being passed by the highest body, the Council of Presidents of the two countries), and those who were against it, as they believed that Syria’s presence prevented a new internecine war, aggression, and occupation by Israel, the more so that a part of Lebanon’s territory continued to remain occupied.

Hariri’s assassination became a playing card for the US whose Bush administration had included Syria in the notorious “axis of evil,” showering it with accusations of all sorts, from the support of terrorism (although right after Sept. 11, 2001 Damascus shared all the intelligence data on Al-Qaeda’s activities in the region with Washington) to the creation of weapons of mass destruction.

The resolution ordering the creation of a special tribunal and an international investigation team to elucidate the Hariri assassination was promptly passed in the United Nations Security Council. The chief investigator, Detlev Mehlis of Germany, jumped at the case – or rather, started producing statements about the involvement of Syrian and Lebanese top state officials, including the President of Lebanon, the “pro-Syrian” (as he was labeled back then) Emil Lakhud.

Mehlis’ statements were received enthusiastically, with almost no one doubting his impartia­lity or checking his records of ­ser­vice. However, it was Mehlis who declared that Libya was involved in the bomb explosion in 1986 at La Belle disco, a popular nightspot among US soldiers in Western Berlin. Naturally, this was never proven in court. Yet within a week US planes were bombing Libya trying to kill its leader, Gaddafi, which nearly resulted in an armed conflict with the USSR, who was Libya’s ally and sent its fleet to the Mediterranean.

Despite Mehlis’s efforts the attempts to accuse Syria failed. Two witnesses, former officers of Syrian and Lebanese secret services, whose testimonies implicating top officials were used by Mehlis, were later proven to be liars. They immediately started selling interviews to the press, telling them who, and for whose money, gave them the orders. After that, Mehlis somehow vanished from the investigation team.

Meanwhile, the country’s political life was determined by acute political strife between the ruling March 14 coalition, led by the assassinated prime minister’s son, Saad Hariri (the so-called “pro-Western” coalition), and the opposition which was made by Hezbollah and General Michel Aoun’s Christian party (labeled “the proteges of Iran”). Both camps emphasized that they represented Lebanese interests.

“After many years of foreign interference in Lebanon’s affairs and various Lebanese forces acting on behalf of those foreign states, the people of Lebanon want to decide their fate themselves,” said Karim El Hadj, former student from Kyiv, director of news service for the TV channel Future, belonging to the leader of the ruling coalition Hariri. “We are ruled not by Syria or Iran, but by the Lebanese people. All Lebanese people must think like Lebanese, rather than American or Western people, in order to solve our own problems. Just as you, Ukrainians, must think in the Ukrainian way in order to realize what exactly Ukrainian interests consist in,” said an MP for Hezbollah Navar Sahili.

At that time the national reconciliation talks seemed to have ended up in a blind alley because of the ruling coalition’s demand (and therefore, a categorical refusal) that Hezbollah disarm. Israel’s aggression in 2006 forced the Lebanese to come to terms with reality. While the country’s President Fouad Siniora was helplessly crying before the TV cameras pleading with the world to save his country from a new wave of total destruction, not only did Hezbollah fight, but also defeated Israel, maybe, for the first time since 1973. Its popularity grew in all Arab countries, and, in an alliance with Aoun’s party, improved its standing in parliament and got two cabinet portfolios in the national unity government. However, this government failed to become a reliable safety device against conflicts — proven by armed skirmishes in Beirut two years ago.

The rotation in the Washington administation and President Obama’s new guidelines have put an end to the defamation of Syria. Despite his occasional outbursts of vitriolic rhetoric against Damascus, Washington thanks it from time to time for intelligence data on extremists in Iraq, and the pragmatic wing in the Obama administration says that the key to the entire Middle East problem lies in Damascus. Moreover, these pragmatics emphasize that it is Syria, due to its alliance with Iran (the two countries signed a treaty of mutual help in case of aggression against one of them), that must become a go-between in the talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

However, there is no unity in the Obama administration. Instead, there is struggle between the doves and the hawks. This can be seen from the reports of the very tribunal on Lebanon, which indicate that several Hezbollah leaders will be accused of assassinating Hariri. Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah not only rejected these accusations, but also declared the tribunal an “Israeli scenario” (this was also accompanied by an exchange of sharp remarks between Tel Aviv and Hezbollah concerning their readiness to defend huge gas deposits which had been found at the border). Severe criticism of Hezbollah can again be heard in the ruling coalition now, as it would always happen before the next armed conflict.

Mehlis’ statements were received enthusiastically, with almost no one doubting his impartia­lity or checking his records of ­ser­vice. However, it was Mehlis who declared that Libya was involved in the bomb explosion in 1986 at La Belle disco, a popular nightspot among US soldiers in Western Berlin. Naturally, this was never proven in court. Yet within a week US planes were bombing Libya trying to kill its leader, Gaddafi, which nearly resulted in an armed conflict with the USSR, who was Libya’s ally and sent its fleet to the Mediterranean.

Despite Mehlis’s efforts the attempts to accuse Syria failed. Two witnesses, former officers of Syrian and Lebanese secret services, whose testimonies implicating top officials were used by Mehlis, were later proven to be liars. They immediately started selling interviews to the press, telling them who, and for whose money, gave them the orders. After that, Mehlis somehow vanished from the investigation team.

Meanwhile, the country’s political life was determined by acute political strife between the ruling March 14 coalition, led by the assassinated prime minister’s son, Saad Hariri (the so-called “pro-Western” coalition), and the opposition which was made by Hezbollah and General Michel Aoun’s Christian party (labeled “the proteges of Iran”). Both camps emphasized that they represented Lebanese interests.

“After many years of foreign interference in Lebanon’s affairs and various Lebanese forces acting on behalf of those foreign states, the people of Lebanon want to decide their fate themselves,” said Karim El Hadj, former student from Kyiv, director of news service for the TV channel Future, belonging to the leader of the ruling coalition Hariri. “We are ruled not by Syria or Iran, but by the Lebanese people. All Lebanese people must think like Lebanese, rather than American or Western people, in order to solve our own problems. Just as you, Ukrainians, must think in the Ukrainian way in order to realize what exactly Ukrainian interests consist in,” said an MP for Hezbollah Navar Sahili.

At that time the national reconciliation talks seemed to have ended up in a blind alley because of the ruling coalition’s demand (and therefore, a categorical refusal) that Hezbollah disarm. Israel’s aggression in 2006 forced the Lebanese to come to terms with reality. While the country’s President Fouad Siniora was helplessly crying before the TV cameras pleading with the world to save his country from a new wave of total destruction, not only did Hezbollah fight, but also defeated Israel, maybe, for the first time since 1973. Its popularity grew in all Arab countries, and, in an alliance with Aoun’s party, improved its standing in parliament and got two cabinet portfolios in the national unity government. However, this government failed to become a reliable safety device against conflicts — proven by armed skirmishes in Beirut two years ago.

The rotation in the Washington administation and President Obama’s new guidelines have put an end to the defamation of Syria. Despite his occasional outbursts of vitriolic rhetoric against Damascus, Washington thanks it from time to time for intelligence data on extremists in Iraq, and the pragmatic wing in the Obama administration says that the key to the entire Middle East problem lies in Damascus. Moreover, these pragmatics emphasize that it is Syria, due to its alliance with Iran (the two countries signed a treaty of mutual help in case of aggression against one of them), that must become a go-between in the talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

However, there is no unity in the Obama administration. Instead, there is struggle between the doves and the hawks. This can be seen from the reports of the very tribunal on Lebanon, which indicate that several Hezbollah leaders will be accused of assassinating Hariri. Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah not only rejected these accusations, but also declared the tribunal an “Israeli scenario” (this was also accompanied by an exchange of sharp remarks between Tel Aviv and Hezbollah concerning their readiness to defend huge gas deposits which had been found at the border). Severe criticism of Hezbollah can again be heard in the ruling coalition now, as it would always happen before the next armed conflict.

It is obvious now that the joint visit to Beirut made by the king of Saudi Arabia and the president of Syria helped prevent a new outburst. President Assad demanded that the tribunal be dismissed, and King Abdullah, although apparently uncertain about this possibility, expressed doubts as to the future verdicts of this tribunal.

It is significant that the banquet celebrating this visit was attended by all of the invited politicians from all camps — of course, with the exception of Falangists and “the Lebanese forces,” who used to closely cooperate with Israel. As a matter of fact, support to Lebanon in the face of Israeli threat lay at the core of all official statements made at the Beirut summit.

Tehran, too, reacted to this via its ambassador to Beirut, who approved of this step towards the “Arab-Muslim unity.” By the way, earlier during the negotiations between the Syrian and Saudi leaders in Damascus, the parties rejected the possibility of American interference in their own dialog. Prior to the summit, Washington made a statement expressing a hope that “Syria will heed the Saudi warnings concerning Iran’s nuclear program.”

In summary, we can say that Syria returns to Lebanon as a moderator of the peacemaking process, and the so-called moderate Arab countries do not mind it. In their turn, these countries at last accepted Hezbollah as their partner (right after the summit, the emir of Qatar paid a visit to southern Lebanon, Hezbollah’s headquarters, and thanked Hezbollah fighters for defending the country). Thus, the summit in Beirut indeed became a significant step towards all-Arab unity.

By the way, before the summit, the Syrian president signed a number of agreements in Belarus. Aleksandr Lukashenko stated that Belarus was going to let Syria have free access to the Russian market, due to its participation in the Customs Union. He also ­anno­un­ced that a summit for the format of Belarus, Syria, and Qatar, as well as Belarus, Syria, and Ve­nezuela, would soon take place for signing large-scale economic ­pro­jects.

As for Ukraine, its only activity in the region was recently signing an agreement with Israel on lifting the visa regime, and unfounded statements that it would dramatically increase the bilateral trade, which now comes up to a humble 200 million US dollars (in contrast, the figures for Syria are several times higher).

It is significant that during the several days of its stay in Tel Aviv, the Ukrainian delegation did not find any time to visit our country’s mission in Ramallah and pay a visit to the leaders of Palestine. This could not have failed to be noticed in all Arab capitals, and become yet another disappointment.

By Ihor SLISARENKO
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