By Robert Fisk
10 January, 2005
before has it happened in Lebanon. Since the Syrian army entered the
country in 1976--just a year after the start of the 15-year civil war,
at the request of Lebanese Christian Maronites--there has been no public
debate about the presence of thousands of Syrian troops here, nor the
suffocating political grip which Damascus has maintained over the Beirut
But last year's
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, demanding the withdrawal
of foreign troops, and an aggressive US policy towards Syria, has suddenly
released a tide of resentment and debate. Even Walid Jumblatt, the Druze
leader and a hitherto reliable ally of Syria, now says that Lebanon
is the last satellite country on earth.
The Lebanese are
stunned. They know that the regional tour of the US neo-conservative
deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, with his demands for a Syrian
withdrawal and the disarmament of the anti-Israeli Hizbollah militia,
is part of Israel's agenda in Lavant. A weakened Syria, along with a
pliant Lebanon without any anti-Israeli forces on its border, is almost
as pleasant for Washington and its Israeli friends as an emasculated,
support for the Iraqi insurgency--another of Mr Armitage's griefs--has
a special irony. It was Lebanese rebel General Michel Aoun's alliance
with Saddam Hussein in 1990 that originally inspired the US to support
Syria's destruction of Aoun's statelet.
But Syria's control
of Lebanon has become as tired and as blatant as the Soviet Union's
domination of the Warsaw Pact. The successful attempt by pro-Syrian
President Emile Lahoud to add three years to his presidency was too
much. Lebanese newspapers, which had confined their criticism of Syria
to news agency dispatches written in Europe or America, suddenly editorialised
their suspicions of Damascus in a way that must have shocked Syria as
much as their readers. "Damascus must review its policies on Lebanon--immediately,"
demanded the Daily Star. On 13 December the so-called Democratic Forum
including Christian and left-wing groups and Mr Jumblatt's Druze party
denounced the interference "of the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence
services which have transformed Lebanon into a police state".
offices of the Syrian Mukhabrat intelligence services were closed in
Beirut and Syrian forces in the mountains above the city were redeployed.
has never been as pernicious as Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon,
which ended in 2000, but the Christian Maronite community--which failed
to oppose Israel's 1978 and 1982 invasions--has always claimed to lead
Lebanon's opposition to Syrian tutelage. Syria's constant demand that
Israel abide by UN resolutions, most notably 242 which demands an Israeli
withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, makes the current
crisis all the more dangerous. Can Syria insist on Israel abiding by
UN resolutions while ignoring 1559? There are those here who believe
that the young President Bashar Assad has failed to grasp how serious
is the Lebanese demand, and the UN resolution, for Syrian withdrawal.
suspect that real Syrian power in Lebanon is exercised by the head of
Syrian military intelligence, General Rustom Ghazali rather than the
Syrian President. Syrian intelligence agents move easily among the one
million Syrian "guest workers in Lebanon'' but the Lebanese have
father, Kamal, resisted Syria's overtures at the start of the civil
war and was assassinated. Mr Jumblatt's close aide and friend, Marwan
Hamade, was the target of a car bomb last November. He survived, but
his bodyguard was killed.
may appear Byzantine, even boring, but it can be deadly to the participants.