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April 17, 2005

Daily Star: War in Lebanon means war in the Levant

Topics: Middle East News and Perspectives

Nadim Shehadi, acting head of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, offers some sound advice that he believes should be foremost in the minds of U.S. policy makers in Monday's Daily Star in Lebanon, along with a brief history lesson.

(...) In the aftermath of Hariri's assassination, the international community redoubled its efforts to support UN Security Council Resolution 1559 calling for Syria to withdraw from the country it has controlled for 29 years. This effort also brought France and the United States together, despite all their differences over Iraq. The last time such a coalition was formed over Lebanon was in 1982, when both the U.S. and France were part of a multinational force that deployed in the country following the Israeli invasion. The object then, as now, was to get Syria out and restore Lebanese sovereignty. Yet why should it work now if it has not worked before? The long history of Western intervention in Lebanon suggests this can create more problems than it solves.

(...)  Lebanon is again on the fault lines of a new, emerging world order; the decisions taken will determine the direction of U.S. policy in the region. Prince Klemens von Metternich of Austria helped shape modern Europe after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Before sending his ambassador to Constantinople at the height of the debacles of the Eastern Question, a period of intense European intervention in the Ottoman Empire, he told him: "Tell the Sultan, if there is war in Lebanon there will be war in the Levant; and tell the Sultan if there is peace in Lebanon there will be peace in the Levant (link inserted by Hyscience)."   More ...

Nadim Shehadi's commentary is best read in the context of a March 10 "PolicyWatch" piece by Theodore Kattouf and Walid Phares. The two pieces call on different historical perspectives from different periods, and offer different flavors of the importance of recent events. Both, however, suggest a need for balancing very complex issues.  Both angles make more sense when considered juxtapositionally.

(...)  In return for its cooperation during the Gulf War in 1991, Syria received carte blanche from the United States regarding its occupation of Lebanon. As the 1990s progressed, however, a combination of U.S. impatience with the regime's policies and Syria's decreasing strategic importance in Iraq led Washington to begin pressuring Asad to withdraw. The pressure intensified after the sole remaining rationalization for the Syrian presence in Lebanon--the Israeli occupation of the south--ended in May 2000. Later that year, increasingly vocal opposition to the Syrian presence emerged, spearheaded by Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir (link inserted by Hyscience) and supported by a mobilized Lebanese diaspora. By 2004, a unified opposition movement began to coalesce in Lebanon, with Rafiq Hariri and the Sunni community on the threshold of joining the movement. As calls for Syrian withdrawal intensified, Damascus embarked on a last-ditch effort to regain control by engineering Hariri's assassination. Initially described as a strategic blunder, it was in fact the last remaining Syrian option to prevent a broad-based opposition bloc from materializing.

(...)  Nevertheless, the Lebanese opposition and the international community are focused on one goal: to rid Lebanon of Syrian occupation. The enormity of this task will ensure unity for the time being. Yet, the long-term integrity of the coalition will depend on the condition of Lebanon after the Syrian withdrawal, especially with regard to the Shiite community. Some issues will be tricky to resolve. For example, although Hizballah must give up its military role, it should not be dismantled as a political party, as it enjoys a relatively high level of support among Lebanese. In general, the United States must encourage immediate planning for the future of postoccupation Lebanon.

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For some more background and perspectives on the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and U.S. policy, read this May 2000 report by the Middle East Forum.

Posted by Hyscience at April 17, 2005 9:32 PM

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