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The Fate of Lebanon and the Oracle at Damascus


Yesterday, President Assad said that "sister" Syria is leaving Lebanon. Or perhaps he did not. Lebanese would be ill-advised to make hasty conclusions on the basis of Assad's speech, which was a masterpiece of ambiguity.

Based on the same speech, different headlines reassured us that sister" is leaving Lebanon, and warned us that it is not. "Syria Ignores Demand to Withdraw Troops" read one headline, while others declared, "Lebanon Protesters Celebrate Syrian Pullback Pledge" and "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has announced the phased redeployment of Syrian forces in Lebanon."

What is the truth? Assad gave a long, rambling and nebulous speech (click here for complete text of Assad's speech) in which he incidentally told some double whoppers with extra cheese and fries. He claimed, for example, that the assassination of Hariri and the "assassination" of Yasser Arafat is part of a plot to destabilize the region. He said "We should not remain in Lebanon one day after there is a Lebanese consensus over our presence. This should not be a subject of discussion." However, the reality is that massive demonstrations of Lebanese against the Syrian presence continue, but the presence of "Sister Syria" continues.

For example, consider the following report:

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters, waving Lebanese flags, erupted in joy in central Beirut when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced on Saturday a gradual Syrian troop pull back from Lebanon.

Women wept and men screamed in celebration when the crowd, watching Assad's speech in the Syrian parliament live on big screens, heard the Syrian leader declaring the move.

They chanted "Syria Out, Syria Out" and "Freedom, Sovereignty, Independence," as they hugged and kissed.

That is one of dozens of such reports. Honestly, does anyone think that there is a consensus for Syria remaining in Lebanon?

However, midst all the verbiage, the operative part of Assad,'s speech was this:

Based on these facts and considerations, completing the steps which we have conducted within the framework of al-Taif accord, and in line with 1559, we are going to withdraw our forces in Lebanon completely to the Bekaa valley, and then to the Lebanese-Syrian borders. I agreed with the Lebanese
President, Emile Lahoud that the Syrian Lebanese Supreme Council will meet this week to discuss and approve the withdrawal plan. When this measure is finished, Syria would have met the al-Taif accord and implemented the requirements of 1559.

What does it mean? Is Syria withdrawing its troops from Lebanon? They are "redeploying" some troops beginning on Monday. They are not withdrawing them, but rather moving them to the Bek'a valley. Perhaps they will withdraw to Syria eventually, or perhaps not. Certainly, "sister" doesn't intend to allow the May elections in Lebanon to be run without her helpful advice and supervision, which will ensure that a nice compliant government is installed. When Syrian troops are withdrawn, does that mean that Syrian influence in Lebanon will return to acceptable levels, or will the Mukhabarat (secret police) remain to exact their protection money and control Lebanese politics? What about all the Syrian workers who have flooded Lebanon and taken jobs from the Lebanese. Are they staying or going?

The behavior of 'sister' is modeled on the policies of its one-time guiding light, the "fraternal" USSR. Sisters and brothers do not need troops to exert their benevolent fraternal and sororal influence, as was shown when the Polish puppet government of Jaruzelski suppressed the Solidarity union. Is "Karami" the Arabic word for "Jaruzelski?" 'Sister' does not need troops in Lebanon, if they can continue to exploit divisions in Lebanese society and exert their influence through surrogate Lebanese groups.

So what will "sister" really do? What "sister" will do depends on the Lebanese people, and what they do. That is the meaning of Assad's speech: "I will only do what you make me do." Sister Syria will give up as much of Lebanon as it is forced to give up. Freedom is not bought cheaply. The Lebanese cannot depend on the United States to rescure them from the clutches of 'sister,' any more than the Hungarian people could depend on the United States. The United States learned a very bad lesson in Lebanon in the 1980s, and they are learning another lesson in Iraq, and they are not too likely to repeat those mistakes for the sake of Lebanon. The Lebanese must not depend on the Israelis either. Ha'aretz reported a rumor that Lebanese politicians had contacted Israel for help, and sure enough, FM Shalom said that Israel will press for a full Syrian withdrawal. There is no surer way, unfortunately, to delegitimize the Lebanese opposition. Lebanese politicians may not want to be seen in the company of sister, but they certainly don't want to be associated with Israel. If FM Shalom really wanted to help the Lebanese achieve independence, he would certainly have been advised to stay out of the fight, or at least, to use more discretion.

Who will really help Lebanon? Only the Lebanese people can help Lebanon. They must liberate themselves - "autoemancipation." The opposition has been nonviolent, but pro-Syrian supporters have already revived the bad old days of the 80s by shooting up the Ashrafiyeh district. The Lebanese revolution will not be velvet and roses. If you want freedom, it is yours, but you have to take it.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000339.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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