Monday, August 27, 2007

Syria Attacks Saudi Arabia to Reaffirm Its Control of Lebanon

This is a season of attacks by individuals who seek to cause distress in the region in order to consolidate their positions and goals in Lebanon. With the "celebrations" that have spread in Lebanon to mark the first anniversary of the war between Israel and Hezbollah, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah delivered three speeches that were broadcast from Ba'labakk, Bint Jubayl and the Southern Suburb of Beirut.

In his three speeches which were not delivered in person, Nasrallah focused on the quantity of rockets that are now in Hezbollah's possession. This caused horror among the Lebanese people as they wondered where Nasrallah wanted to take Lebanon! As he delivered his second speech, the Lebanese people noticed that a large number of those considered allies of Hezbollah and, consequently, should express their jubilation with what they heard from the Hezbollah secretary general, opted to appear on television stations that are affiliated with or support Hezbollah to attack Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Abdulaziz Khujah.
The attacks against Saudi Arabia coincided with reports that France had put a stop to the French initiative that reportedly sought to convene a regional-international conference with the participation of Syria to resolve the Lebanese problem.

These attacks also followed a conference on Iraq held in Syria to discuss the security situation in that country, which Saudi Arabia boycotted. Some Lebanese agents "accredited" [by Syria] said, among other things, that Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Khujah and the US Ambassador Geoffrey Feltman were the only diplomats who were acting in Lebanon to cause divisions among the Lebanese parties and to prevent them from meeting. These agents did not say that if there were a Syrian ambassador in Lebanon, problems would probably decrease. They also said that they "received information" that the international conference for which US President George Bush called for to discuss the Palestinian problem would convene only to provide an occasion for a photo of a handshake between the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

In his third speech delivered on 14 July, Nasrallah said that he had prepared a "surprise" for Israel that would change the face of the region. This "surprise" came as a surprise to the Lebanese people of whom some were convinced that Hezbollah might have nuclear weapons! Horror struck deep among the Lebanese who have not yet repaired the damage caused by last year's war. Others believed that the "surprise" might indicate Hezbollah's possession of chemical weapons. According to informed sources, Iranian military officials in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and Syrian officials last year entertained the notion of trying the use chemical weapons. These officials sought to push Hezbollah to use the Zilzal rockets, which carry chemical weapons, on a small-scale. This is why in the early days of the war the Israeli military aircraft concentrated on bombarding these rockets and their bases, having received confirmed reports that Hezbollah was planning to use chemical weapons. According to this information, Nasrallah was in Damascus a few days before the 1ast July attack [on Israeli patrol to capture 3 Israeli soldiers]. He voiced his concern that Israel might react by invading Lebanon, should he give the order to abduct Israeli soldiers. However, the Syrians and the Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps--Al-Quds Brigades--proposed that should retaliate against any Israeli attempt at invasion by firing rockets carrying chemical weapons, This , they said, would have a resounding impact because the Israelis were not provided with gas masks.

When the conflict broke out, Israeli aircraft destroyed the Iranian Zilzal rockets and foiled Hezbollah's attempt to use chemical weapons. In the wake of Nasrallah's speech in which he revealed his "surprise," two developments worth noting occurred: First, the fiery attack that Syrian Vice President Faruq Al-Shara launched against Saudi Arabia prompted the Lebanese people to understand the significance of the preliminary attack begun by those Lebanese agents "accredited" by Syria. The second was Washington's announcement that it was considering placing the Islamic Revolution Guards Corpse on the list of terrorist organizations. Everyone, near and far, knows that since its establishment early in the 1980s, Hezbollah owes its weapons, training and funding to the Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. During last year's war, officers from this corps assisted Hezbollah's fighters and kept the military supply lines across Syria open. Nasrallah's anticipated "surprise" seems to have played a basic role in the US thinking that might turn into action next month. This mere thinking dealt a psychological blow to Iran because it affected its legitimacy as a regime. This thinking has also caused confusion in Syrian circles. Then came the announcement by Netherlands's Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen's that his country is ready to host the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. It is to be recalled that in 2005, leaks from the draft report prepared by Detlev Mehlis, [head of the International Independent Investigation Commission], for the United Nations noted that five senior Syrian officials were implicated in the bombing of the Al-Hariri's motorcade. And last month, Serge Brammertz pointed out that his team obtained names of a number of people who played a role in the attack on Al-Hariri, along with names of others who participated in other assassinations that were perpetrated in Lebanon.

Then came the resounding statement of Faruq al-Shara against "paralyzed" and "submissive" Saudi Arabia. All Lebanese parties, both in the opposition and government, realized the significance of this statement, as Al-Shara's political future is contingent upon having a Lebanese president, chosen by Syria, assume this post so that Syria can emphasize its actual influence in Lebanon, notwithstanding the withdrawal of its army. Al-Shara cannot lose every time he makes a bet. For before the assassination of Al-Hariri he said: "The Syrian troops will stay in Lebanon for two years," but only two months later the Syrian troops were withdrawn from Lebanon. He now said: "Israel knows that we do not wish to wage war, that Syria will always be ready to retaliate should Israel attack it, but that Syria will not be the first to start an attack. "Meanwhile, Turkish officials advised Israel to distinguish between Syria and Iran because the two countries differ over regional issues. They also told Israel that "achieving peace with Syria would be easier than achieving it with the Palestinians. "In his fiery statement, Al-Shara also attacked President Bush's initiative, saying that Syria will not participate in the international conference even if it were invited. No invitations have so far been extended to any party to attend the proposed conference. On July 1, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim said: Syria is ready to participate in an international conference on the Middle East under the auspices of the United States. He repeated this statement during his visit to India last week, when he urged Indian companies to invest in Syria and establish joint enterprises to benefit from "the climate of stability and security Syria enjoys under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad." Wedo not know if during his visit to India al-Muallim was aware that a delegation of Muslim Indian leaders was touring Israel to spread the message of peace.

Maulana Jameel Ahmed Ilyasi, secretary-general of the All-India Association of Imams and Mosques, which includes 500,000 imams throughout India, said during his tour of Israel. We do not know whether Faruq al-Shara would accuse the Muslims of India totaling 147 million of being "agents" of Israel, or whether neither India nor its Muslims have any effect as long as Syria's road to Lebanon does not pass through India or its imams. It is regrettable that Syria is acting to turn Lebanon into an arena for conflict with Saudi Arabia. It seems that Syria insists on torpedoing the situation in Lebanon if it fails to re-impose its influence there. Syria believes that hosting a two-day security conference on Iraq in Syria was enough to end its international isolation and secure recognition of its role in Lebanon. Syria aspires to use the negotiations over Iraq to get political concessions in Lebanon and end its isolation through normalization of ties with the United States. Perhaps the motive for this stance is that the Syrian regime is aware that the United States and Israel tacitly want to maintain Bashar al-Assad's regime for fear of the unknown, particularly the Islamists, (the Muslim Brotherhood). Since the Syrian regime is not facing an impending danger, Al-Shara felt that raising the tone of accusations against Saudi Arabia and its role in Lebanon might prompt Washington, through Canada, the other secret mediator, to agree that Syria help restore calm in Iraq in return for offering Lebanon to Syria, this time on a red silver platter. The Lebanese people expect the worst to happen in the months ahead, and they do not rule out the possibility of bombings and assassinations against politicians, journalists, and even businessmen. Now that last year's war, the crippling of the government institutions, and the striking at the economy have all failed to bring to knee a large segment of the Lebanese, we have begun to hear leaks about postponing the election of a Lebanese president for over two years. For according to Al-Shara promise to President Al-Assad, Syria will continue to push for the formation of the so-called Lebanese national unity government so that this government can control the notional and presidential decision-making, even if "a half if formed a half hour before the election of a Lebanese president." Lebanon would thus head to the unknown, just as the "nationalists" had previously been in control of the war decision. Will the winds blow as Al-Shara wishes them to? Thanks to Al-Shara's efforts, not one single Arab country with normal relations with all Arab countries has such normal relations with Damascus to allow it to play the honest broker.

It seems that the conference on Iraq that was held in Syria has not convinced the Americans despite Damascus's efforts to demonstrate the Syrian president's openness to peace with Israel or its attempts to attract US attention to its "pivotal" role in the region. US Democratic Senator for Connecticut, Joseph Lieberman published an article in the Wall Street Journal on 20 July under the headline "Syria, the Al-Qaeda Travel Agency." He said: "When congress convenes next month, we must tell the Syrian regime, as we told the Iranian regime last month, that the passing of Al-Qaeda suicide bombers from Syrian to Iraq is unacceptable and must cease."Russia might resume its "courting" of Syria, but this does not change the reality that Syria and Iraq are about to fall in the Iranian lap. Syria will resort to "everything" to restore its powerful influence in Lebanon. But Lebanese, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, the United States, the United Nations and the international tribunal will be lying in wait for Syria. We hope that there will be no return to the days when a Lebanese was accused of siding with Israel if he was not siding with Syria.

* Published in London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on August 24, 2007. Huda al Husseini is a Lebanese writer.


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