Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Syria and Iran still control Lebanon

Walid Phares, LebanonNewsWire:
On April 26, 2005, pictures of the “last” Syrian soldiers were seen around the world. Today on the first annual withdrawal of the Syrian regular forces from Lebanon there are reasons for celebration and other reasons for great concern. While Syrian road blocks have vanished from Beirut and the various regions of Lebanon, many questions are still troubling the minds of most Lebanese and their friends around the world. The truth, the whole truth, is not yet fully out in the open. What caused the abrupt Syrian withdrawal, and is the latter complete? What is causing the non fulfillment of the UN resolution 1559 which called for liberation and disarming? What can the US, Europe and the international community do to help Lebanon’s civil society – one year after its supposed emancipation - regain its place among democracies? READ MORE

When reviewing the events leading to the Syrian redeployment out of Lebanon in April 2005, and the developments that followed since until April of this year, one can note the following realities:

It is thanks to the efforts of the Lebanese Diaspora’s lobby and the forces of civil society in Lebanon that Western democracies led by the United States and France, decided to seize the United Nations Security Council and issue UNSCR 1559 asking the Syrian regime to pull its forces out of Lebanon, disarm the militias and promote democracy.

It is thanks to the UNSCR 1559 and the courageous response of the Lebanese masses on March 14, 2005 to the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri on February 14 and the pro-Syrian demonstration by Hizbollah on March 8, that the Cedars Revolution broke the wall of fear from Syrian repression: One million and a half people submerged downtown Beirut.

In response to the Cedars Revolution, it is thanks to the strong warnings by US President George Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and other world leaders, to the Assad regime in Damascus during the months of March and April 2005 that Syrian forces begun to pull out from the country.

The Syrian pull out came as a result of the combined efforts by the US-led international pressures and the popular uprising of the Cedars Revolution. However let’s note today, one year after the redeployment that Lebanon is till far from full recovery:

Let’s remember that Lebanon’s legislative elections in May 2005 took place before the disarming of Hizbollah and the other Jihadi and pro-Syrian militias; and citizens had to vote while Syrian influence in Government and the security services was still predominant. Let’s also note that Lebanon pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud wasn’t removed from power. Hence, despite a new anti-Syrian majority in parliament and the formation of a new cabinet headed by M Fuad Saniora, an ally to the late Hariri, the Syrian-Iranian sponsored alliance in Lebanon has been unfortunately successful in blocking the full implementation of UNSCR 1559 and bogging down the Cedars Revolution.

Since last May, a Terrorist campaign has been able to assassinate a number of politicians such as leftwing politician George Hawi, liberal journalist Samir Qassir, democracy leader MP Jebran Tueni, and attempt to assassinate media figures such as May Chidiac.

Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Syria’s allies in Lebanon have been threatening violence against any attempt to pull the remnants of the Syrian occupation, the disarming of their militias and the deployment of the Lebanese army into south Lebanon or along the Syrian-Lebanese borders.

International, US, and European officials and observers have concluded that Syrian security personnel remain along the borders inside Lebanese territories. Human Rights groups have uncovered mass graves at the locations of former Syrian Mukhabarat in Lebanon; and NGOs representing the families of the missing citizens under Syrian occupation report that hundreds are still detained and tortured in Syrian jails.

Hence, one year after the official withdrawal of the Syrian Army, it is fair to state that more freedoms have been acquired in Lebanon more people have seen their liberties expanding. But at the same time another Syrian-Iranian controlled “army” remains inside the country and is blocking the recovery of the small nation. Therefore, at the first anniversary of the official pull out, the international community should commit to another series of efforts, perhaps more difficult, aiming at the full implementation of UNSCR 1559. During these very dangerous times as Ahmedinijad’s regime in Tehran is challenging regional and international security with his nuclear ambitions, as the Assad regime continues to interfere with the political process in Iraq by supporting the Terrorists across the borders, and as Hizbollah continues to assist radical groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, it is crucial to enable Lebanon’s civil society to develop a full democracy in the country.

It is then very urgent that the international community extend its support to the forces of civil society, the Government and the Army in Lebanon to reclaim a pluralist, democratic and sovereign Lebanon.

Dr Walid Phares is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington and was one of the main architects in the campaign behind UNSCR 1559. He contributed this article to LEBANONWIRE.