Rafiq Hariri

The car bomb assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, on Monday has certainly drawn some negative attention to neighboring Syria. Of course, this neighboring country has been occupying Lebanon in some form for three decades, but it has not always carried the perception as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The first paragraph in the Washington Times article, “U.S. Recalls Envoy From Syria” illustrates this recent, but unsubstantiated, belief as it relates the recall of the US Ambassador to Syria:

The Bush administration turned up the pressure on Syria yesterday, recalling the U.S. ambassador for “urgent consultations” in Washington, but it stopped short of accusing Damascus of being behind former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's assassination in Beirut on Monday.

We may have stopped short, but we were not unclear in the rest of our rhetoric:

Nevertheless, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Mr. Hariri's assassination was the “proximate cause” of Ambassador Margaret Scobey's return and that Syria's “stated reason” for its de facto occupation of Lebanon “the country's internal security” is no longer valid.

Why do we allow Syria to occupy Lebanon again? Many may remember their civil war in 1975–1976, incited by clashes with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). While their refugee camps along the border with Israel had been unmolested by previous agreements, their incursions into Israel drew retaliatory raids. The Encyclopedia Britannica described the growing civil war thus:

Hardly a day passed after the beginning of full civil war in April 1975 without a battle somewhere in Lebanon. The country was torn apart, and the central government virtually ceased to exist. The army, long the mainstay of the government, largely dissolved while the combatants, amply supplied by various foreign groups, turned upon one another with a ferocity—and firepower—almost unequaled in such a small area of the world.

This disastrous time for Lebanon led to an unlikely coalition between Syria and Israel supporting the Christian faction in Lebanon over the pro-PLO forces there. Syria did not want a Israeli intervention in a county on their doorstep. In 1976 Syria occupied Lebanon with 20,000 troops, partitioning the country until a longer-term solution could be found. The continued foreign intervention prevented full-scale open war, but the country was ruined regardless.

Even so, Israeli intervention came in 1981, when they bombed PLO headquarters in West Beirut. in 1982 they invaded and pushed the Syrians back.

Under supervision by an international (U.S., French, and Italian) force, PLO leaders and troops left Beirut for a number of Arab countries in late August. Because Syria supported the PLO forces remaining in northern Lebanon and in al-Biqa' valley, the forces could not be compelled by Israel to leave, but the Syrian backing was used to foster a PLO leadership that opposed the PLO chairman, Yasir 'Arafat.

Eventually the Israelis left after the situation again deteriorated and partitioning of the country (perhaps even engulfment) again loomed.

Lebanese of nearly all factions and groups rejected the possible disappearance of their country. Instead, the chief issue became which one of the groups would dominate a newly reunited Lebanon. In March 1989 General Aoun launched a “war of liberation” against Syria and its Lebanese allies; despite Iraq's covert assistance, this war failed, and in September Aoun accepted a cease-fire.

With Syria back in control and forcing political changes, the parliament was reconstituted to force power sharing between the Christian and Muslim factions. This gave them a buffer between their country and Israel. After all, who wants terrorists striking a powerful enemy from your own territory?

Since then the country has had an uneasy balance of Sunni, Shiite, and Christian factions. It was during this time that Rafiq Hariri came to power and worked hard to revitalize the country and its economy. Hariri wasn't entirely influential however, as Fox News reports, Syrian occupation has continued for many years:

Syria has an estimated 15,000 troops in Lebanon and has been adamant about keeping them in place, despite demands for withdrawal by the late Hariri and others, including the U.S. and the United Nations. U.N. resolution 1559 was passed in attempt to get Syria to leave Lebanon, to no avail.

An estimated 200,000 people came to Hariri's funeral, many of them yelling “Syria Out” as an indication that they suspected who might have been behind the bombing. Hariri's ability to unify the various factions was evident in the funeral:

Breaking with Islamic tradition, hundreds of weeping women waving white handkerchiefs joined men in the march. This and the participation of Sunni Muslim clerics, white turban-wearing Druse religious leaders and ordinary Lebanese Shiites and Christians demonstrated Hariri's great popularity and ability to reach across potentially volatile sectarian divides.

Why was he no longer part of the government? Because of his distaste for Syria's influence:

Hariri resigned last year amid opposition to a Syrian-backed constitutional amendment that enabled his rival, the pro-Damascus [Emile] Lahoud, to extend his term as Lebanon's president.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had some tough talk in her comments about the recall of the ambassador.

“We are not laying blame; it needs to be investigated,” Miss Rice said.
“When something happens in Lebanon, Syria needs to help to find accountability for what has happened there,” she said. “This is a part of the destabilization that takes place when you have the kind of conditions that you do now in Lebanon thanks to Syrian interference.”

Sounds like an echo of Hariri, doesn't it?

Syria has already been on our short list, from remarks made by President Bush in the State of the Union address this year, to the Syria Accountability Act.

The Syria Accountability Act, which Congress passed in May, banned all U.S. exports to Syria except for food and medicine, as well as flights between the two countries. Some on Capitol Hill, however, have been pushing for prohibiting all American investment.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Syria's Dead Hand” called the Syria Accountability Act all but a paper tiger, but did add this:

In January, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage went to Damascus, ostensibly to read Bashar Assad the riot act. But we're told his main message was a demand that the Syrians hand over Saddam's half-brother Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan (a.k.a. Sabawi the Tikriti), who is almost certainly supporting the insurgency [in Iraq] from Syria. Damascus has yet to cough him up, though now perhaps it might in an act of token cooperation.

The editors of the WSJ want the recall of the ambassador to be permanent and for significant diplomatic pressure to be applied to end the occupation of Lebanon. All of this would have to be under threat of direct action from the United States. With the recent policy of pre-emption, it has to be having some effect on Syrian politics.

To be fair, lots of scandal has been heaped Syria's way since before the Iraq War. It has been rumored that personnel, valuables, and WMD was rushed over the border before and after the war started. The discovery of chemical weapons in Jordan in the hands of Al-Quaeda was supposedly through this link. In fact, Iraq-to-Syria smuggling was an open secret that perhaps US Intelligence had a pretty good eye on, but didn't thwart in order to maintain our tabs.

At any rate, if the intention of the terrorists was to provoke a reaction, they've succeeded. If they wanted to build unrest, they've succeeded. The real question now is whether the situation can be resolved and whether Lebanon will ever return to being an inclusive democracy that had Shiites, Sunnis, and Christians working together, before it was undone by the PLO.

Update: Captain Ed, at Captain's Quarters, adds his own comments in “Who Killed Rafik Hariri?.” One comment I particularly enjoyed was

So why would the Syrians want to assassinate Hariri? Well, they claim they didn't, and instead blame the Israelis. However, the Israelis have even less reason than Damascus to pull such a stunt. They want the Syrians out of Lebanon, not to give them a reason to dawdle. Besides, car bombs aren't Israel's style. The Syrians need to ensure that they have a firm political grip on Lebanon if they ever intend to leave it to the Lebanese, and with the recent push for the end of the occupation, the Syrians may have decided—rather unwisely—that a message had to be delivered in preparation for their evacuation.

I didn't delve too deeply into motivations myself so I'm glad to hear this insight.

Josh Poulson

Posted Wednesday, Feb 16 2005 12:03 PM

Adjacent entries


« Presents, Future and Perfect
“Pajamas at the Gate” »





To track back to this entry, ping this URL: http://pun.org/MT/trackback-script.cgi/403

There is one trackback on this entry.

Syria out of Lebanon Now!

The fallout from the assassination of Rafiq Hariri continues. The US government has followed up on its temporary recall of its ambassador “for consultations” and has followed up with a strong statement (from a Fox News article: “The f... [Read more]

Josh's Weblog

Linked Wednesday, Mar 2 2005 04:59 PM

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)



Affiliate advertising

Basecamp project management and collaboration

Backpack: Get Organized and Collaborate