The Grip on the Levant

Lebanese politics gets interesting in the wake of the assassination of former Primer Minister Harari. Mr. Harari was a wealthy and influential Lebanese politician and businessman who positioned himself as an opposition leader to the existing pro-Syrian Lebanese government. While a previously unknown terrorist group (“The Organization for Victory and Jihad in the Levant”) has claimed credit for the murder, Syria is strongly suspected to have murdered Mr. Harari. But the Arab and European media refuses to rule out the usual suspect: let’s blame the Jews! The Lebanese government refuses to sanction an international investigation, even though it is believed six suspects left Beirut and are en route to Australia.

Syria has occupied Lebanon since the mid 1970’s, and it is estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 Syrian troops remain in country. Over the course of the past thirty years, Syria has attempted to establish Lebanon as a friendly satellite nation, and has welcomed Hezbollah in country to fight against Israel. The recent assassination of the popular Mr. Harari may cause the decades of Syrian labors to crumble.

The Lebanese opposition has called for peaceful uprising and the resignation of the existing cabinet. A minister has quit his post, stating “The current government is incapable of resolving the dangerous situation in the country.” The Lebanese government cautions against public demonstrations; .” Lebanon’s Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh, however, warned the government would not tolerate public disturbances. “The state will not stand idly by,” he said.”

In a hopeful turn of events, Lebanese ministers are accusing French President Jaques Chirac of supporting the opposition; “President Chirac came to Lebanon and completely ignored the government, the president and everyone. Then, he stood to encourage the opposition to step up [its campaign].” The French were instrumental in the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which “calls upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon” [Syria] as well as “the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias” [Hezbollah].

Syria appears to be flustered by the Lebanese situation. President Bashar Assad, like all good dictators who fear they are losing their grip on power, has dismissed the chief of Syrian military intelligence, and replaced him with Assad’s brother in law. The Syrian government claims this was a planned move and was in the works since last summer. The timing suggests otherwise, as it appears Syria fears losing its grip on Lebanon. Couple this with Syria’s involvement in Iraq, and Mr. Assad might be a bit concerned about the survival of the current Syrian regime.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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6 Comments

  • Ryan says:

    Syria’s hold on Lebanon is nothing but an illegal occupation and it should be ended ASAP. Mr. Hariri was a very smart man. It’s unfortunate that that’s what happens to a lot of smart and moderate men the Middle East. Lahoud, the pro-Syrian President, is a Christian. He is obviously nothing more than a Christian Puppet because I highly doubt very many Christians (or muslims) support Syrian involvement in Lebanon. Lebanon is one of the most advanced countries in the region, and also the first democracy. It should be left alone and allowed to choose it’s own government.

  • Angel says:

    I saw discussion with Syrian ambassador, who naturally denied Syria’s part the assassination. He claimed Syria has been moving forward with reforms. Also, Syria celebrates national holidays for all religions i.e. Easter, two national holidays for the Roman rite and the Eastern rite.
    From what I have read about Syria and Bashir Assad, I have the feeling that he doesn’t have full control of that country. Remnants from his father’s regime are still holding on.

  • Justin B says:

    Angel,

    This is the same Syria that was part of the 6-Day War. I don’t know what reforms they are moving forward with, but if part of the reforms do not include expelling the former Baathist Party members that are committing acts of terror against the Iraqi government, the Iraqi people, and US Soldiers and the reforms do not include expelling people that are committing attacks on Isreali citizens in cafe’s, they better not claim to be making “reforms”. Celebrating Easter is nice and all, but allowing an Easter celebration and at the same time allowing Suicide Bombers to train and build weapons on your soil doesn’t make up for an Easter holiday.

    We have no monopoly on telling people how to run their governments fairly or how to administer their economy. We have preferences, but as long as countries are peaceful, they have autonomy. I would love it if the entire world were democratic and free from oppression which Syria clearly is not. But having a nice harmonious happly homeland doesn’t mean anything to me unless and until you STOP ATTACKING INNOCENT WOMEN AND CHILDREN AND STOP ALLOWING THOSE THAT ATTACK YOUR NEIGHBORS free reign in your country. Syria is a sponsor of terror and until that changes, they are not “reforming”. And assassinating leaders ain’t real encouraging.

  • Justin B says:

    Tyranies have “full control” by nature of the fact that there are minimal civil liberties to begin with. They could go in and get the bad guys, torture them, and execute them for committing crimes. They just turn a blind eye because the wrath is directed at the US or Isreal, not at the local government. And I don’t blame them. Who would want the terrorists angry at them. But ignoring the problem because the terrorists may get angry and attack you instead of the Great Satan is allowing the problem to manifest itself throughout the world. It is countries like Syria that let the training occur that makes the newer attacks so much more deadly.

  • Angel says:

    Justin:
    I have been aware of the wars/events in the Middle East since 1967, and I have always been a strong supporter of Isreal. In fact, one of the marines killed in Lebanon, 1983 lived one block from my home. I certainly understand the horrors of killing innocents and living with terror. I grew up during the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war.
    I have always been disturbed that our government never responded to the attacks on our citizens starting in the late 70s. It took 911 for a President to react.
    Assad’s father was considered a “strongman” and feared leader during his era and I don’t consider Bashir that type of leader. Most of the atrocities you named happened on the father’s watch. I think the U.S. is applying pressure to Syria and will continue to do so until we get the right response.

  • Justin B says:

    The problem is clearly the concept of fear and what a strongman is. Palestine needs a strongman to lead it as probably does Syria. But strength does not mean brutal or tyranical. They need laws that are just and leaders that uphold the just laws. Right now the leaders of many of these countries are too scared of these terrorists to actually uphold or even pass just laws. Most of these leaders to not want the challenge of trying to get rid of terrorism in their own country, yet they continue to relentlessly try to get rid of Isreal. It is their impotence to stop the terrorist within their own border–caused by either their lack of power and authority or their lack of resolve–that is allowing terrorism to fester.

    I am not disagreeing with your assessment that he is not in full control, but his impotence is causing us great harm. If he wants to continue to lead their nation, he has to reign in the terrorists operating there. It will be painful, but if he makes the decision to do it, we will gladly assist. The problem is that these leaders want to blame the inability to rule and stop terror on the power of the terrorists, but I do not agree. It is because of the power of the blind eyes that turn away from it and allow it to go on either because they are afraid or they are bribed or they truly agree with the principles that the terrorist operate under. I don’t need to know the motives. I just want to see the right results. And Syria is not taking steps to stop things.

Iraq

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Syria

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Al shabaab

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