Syria is Not Against the UN

Michael Young has written an interesting article criticizing his government for suggesting that al-Qaida types are responsible for killing the 6 UNIFIL soldiers. He would prefer that the blame be pinned on Syria. In particular, he singles out Ghazi Aridi, Lebanon's Information Minister for being weak on Syria and Hizbullah.

Information Minister Ghazi Aridi noted that "[t]here is a link between the attack which targeted the Spanish contingent of UNIFIL and the fighting between the Lebanese Army and the terrorists of Fatah al-Islam in Nahr al-Bared." He went on to say, "Lebanon is the victim of a terrorist wave striking from the North to the South in which the latest target was the Spanish contingent. This attack was preceded by confessions from arrested terrorists about preparations against UNIFIL." You have to wonder what Aridi was talking about. He and his political allies have been arguing, with considerable legitimacy, that Lebanon is today facing a Syrian effort to return to the country and torpedo the Hariri tribunal. In that case why fall back on a charade – a Syrian-created charade at that – that everything going wrong is the work of an obscure Salafist group facing annihilation in Nahr al-Bared? Once that fight is over and the bombings and killings continue, who will the Siniora government then blame? Indeed, who do we blame for the bombings and killings in 2005, when Fatah al-Islam wasn't even present in Lebanon?

Michael's main argument is:

By going along with the argument that an alleged Al-Qaeda group is the one targeting UNIFIL, the [Lebanese] authorities are downplaying that what is taking place is the methodical dismantling of Resolution 1701. And that's not Al-Qaeda's priority; it is Iran's and Syria's priority, and Hizbullah's.

I am quoted:

Even an academic sympathetic to the Syrian regime saw its hand in what happened last weekend. On his blog, Joshua Landis wrote: "I think the bombing of the UNIFIL troops was an indication of the troubles that the UN can look forward to if it presses the Syrians or their ally Hizbullah."

Michael is absolutely correct to suggest that Syria hopes to dismantle Resolution 1701, but this is only true so long as UN troops in Lebanon are used to ensure that the Golan Heights is not returned. The UN's selective application of UN Resolutions is designed to prevent Syria from getting back the Golan Heights – at least that is the way Syria interprets the UN's actions, and it is not wrong in this. Any weakening of Hizbullah before the Golan is returned diminishes the chances of its eventual return. That is why Syrians of every stripe were ecstatic when Hizbullah stood its ground against Israel's attempt to destroy it and assassinate its leaders in the summer of 2006. It is also why Israel and the US insisted on stuffing as many foreign troops between Hizbullah and the Israel border as possible through the agency of Resolution 1701 while at the same time refusing to engage Syria. or encourage Israel to reopen peace negotiations. All of this maneuvering is designed to help Israel consolidate its hold over the Golan. That is the only way Syria can interpret it. Syria's strategic objective is the return of the Golan. So long as Resolution 1701 is used to prevent this, it will also be Syria's objective to undermine it. 

Where Michael is wrong is to argue that al-Qaida does not seek to kill UNIFIL troops as a strategic priority. Al-Qaida has made it perfectly clear that it will target UNIFIL troops. This fulfills several al-Qaida objectives.

1. Ridding the Middle East of foreign troops is the primary objective of al-Qaida

2. Al-Qaida has proclaimed its next objective, ever since establishing itself in Iraq, to be to expand beyond the Iraqi theater into Bilad al-Sham, or the Levant, from where it can open a front with Israel, the center of the Crusader-Zionist presence in the Islamic World. Killing UNIFIL troops fits this bill perfectly.

3. Al-Qaida was upset by Hizbullah's success in 2006. Its amour propre was wounded because Shiites had upstaged it and became the anti-Israel heroes of the Islamic World.

4. Al-Qaida groups in Lebanon have repeated on several occasions that the best strategy to implant itself in the Levant is to force conflict between Syria and Lebanon, thereby weakening both governments. The creation of failed states is the preferred strategy of al-Qaida. This was Zarqawi's rational for sparking civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. He knew that civil war in Iraq was the surest way to guarantee the failure of the "American government" installed government in Iraq and of frustrating US designs to implant itself permanently in region. Al-Qaida wants to do the same thing in Lebanon. What better way than killing UNIFIL troops and having analysts sympathetic to the Siniora government accuse Syria of the crime?

For these reasons, targeting UNIFIL troops is a strategic objective of al-Qaida.

What is more, the bomb that killed the UNIFIL troops was identical to the bomb that killed the Lebanese MP over a week ago, which the Lebanese government quickly blamed on Syria. Aluminum powder, which was particular to both bombs, was found in large quantity in the apartments of al-Qaida operatives in Tripoli. These facts have pursuaded most analysts of al-Qaida's authorship of the two crimes. They should not be dismissed lightly, even if they are politically inconvenient. There can be little dispute that al-Qaida is an independent force in Lebanon that does not share Syria and Hizbullah's strategic objectives.

Syria is not anti-UNIFIL in principle, as is al-Qaida. Syria is only anti-UNIFIL so long as UN troops are used to inhibit the return of the Golan to Syria. If, however, UNIFIL leaders pressure the UN and Europe to reopen the Golan question, as they should and as Bashar al-Assad has requested on many occasions, Syria will support and protect UNIFIL. There is no reason why the UN cannot be an advocate of both countries' sovereignty.

There is a shared interest between UNIFIL, Syria, and Hizbullah in combating al-Qaida, stabilizing Lebanon, and encouraging peace and the application of all UN resolutions in the region. It only needs to be agreed upon and pursued.

When an Italian envoy spoke to President Assad and Vice President Sharaa following the UNIFIL bombing, he was asked about the Golan. We can presume that Syria's leaders were making this argument with him. Most likely Sharaa explained that if the Italians could push forward talks to have the Golan returned, there would be no reason for Syria to oppose the presence of UNIFIL in Lebanon. On the contrary, it would be in Syria's interest to combine forces to protect UNIFIL troops and destroy al-Qaida in Lebanon.

Hizbullah would take the same approach. Hizb has no love for al-Qaida, but it will work to undermine UNIFIL troops in Lebanon if their presence is used by the Siniora government to prevent an agreement being hammered out between the Shiite party and March 14 leaders to guarantee Shiites a larger share of power in Lebanon.

Many members of the Future Movement fear a possible agreement between Syria and Hizbullah on the one hand and UNIFIL leaders and Europe on the other. They do not want more Hizbullah or Shiite influence in Lebanon. The door for such an understanding has already been opened by the Sarkozy government, when it invited Hizbullah to Paris later this month and claimed that it was not opposed to engagement with Syria. Responsible international leaders seem willing to explore this way out of the regional quagmire.

Such an agreement can be good for Lebanon and help restore its sovereignty. It should be in the interest of both the Lebanese government and Europe to encourage bringing Hizbullah and Syria into the peace tent. Al-Qaida types will proliferated in the absence of regional peace.

To use such terms as "alleged al-Qaida" and argue for al-Qaida's innocence in the latest bombings in Lebanon, Young insists that only Syria and Hizbullah are interested in murdering UN troops. The evidence suggests otherwise. There can be little doubt that Syria can share al-Qaida's strategic interest of destabilizing Lebanon if it is forced into a corner, but this is not what Syria wants. Syria wants the Golan and the application of the UN resolutions that ensure its justice. Syria will only stand against the UN so long as the UN stands against it.

Here is Young's entire article:

The dismantling of Resolution 1701
Michael Young, 28 June 2007, Daily Star

Beirut — For those following events in South Lebanon, the deadly attack on Sunday against soldiers of the Spanish contingent of UNIFIL was expected. Among the United Nations troops, it was the Spaniards who had the reputation for most forcefully implementing their mandate. The undermining of UN Security Resolution 1701 has, plainly, started. However, before we assume that the South is on the verge of turning into a new Iraq, with foreign troops transformed into walking targets, a more subtle degradation of the resolution may be in the works.  

There were probably two principal reasons, aside from the kill factor, for the car-bomb attack against the soldiers. The first was to make UNIFIL more timorous in its patrolling of the border area, in such a way that, with the removal of Lebanese Army units to fight in Nahr al-Bared, more room would be cleared up for Hizbullah to rebuild its military infrastructure south of the Litani River. That's not to say that Hizbullah detonated the device that killed the UN soldiers, but it's very difficult to accept that the party was unaware of what was about to take place. Hizbullah, for all its declarations of sympathy for UNIFIL, views the international force and the Lebanese Army as grave obstacles to the pursuit of "resistance" in the South. For an organization that could not survive without armed struggle, that recently saw its Hamas comrades establish an autonomous territory alongside Israel in Gaza, now is the time to act, in collaboration with Iran and Syria, to again make of South Lebanon a front line against Israel. 

The attack was also a warning to the UN not to contemplate sending observers along the Syrian-Lebanese border to prevent the supply of weapons to Hizbullah. Syrian officials have consistently spoken against such a deployment, and even threatened to close the borders with Lebanon. However, it's not clear the Syrians can do so without Iraq and Jordan closing their crossing points with Syria. Amman and Baghdad have not publicly said they would retaliate in this way, but there were reports last week that they might, which supposedly prompted Damascus to leave the Masnaa crossing open. If the information is correct, then Syria's most effective way of blocking an observer mission might be to hit UNIFIL through its Palestinian proxies in Lebanon, showing what would happen if the force expanded out of the South.

Even an academic sympathetic to the Syrian regime saw its hand in what happened last weekend. On his blog, Joshua Landis wrote: "I think the bombing of the UNIFIL troops was an indication of the troubles that the UN can look forward to if it presses the Syrians or their ally Hizbullah."

The oddest statement, however, came from the Siniora government. Information Minister Ghazi Aridi noted that "[t]here is a link between the attack which targeted the Spanish contingent of UNIFIL and the fighting between the Lebanese Army and the terrorists of Fatah al-Islam in Nahr al-Bared." He went on to say, "Lebanon is the victim of a terrorist wave striking from the North to the South in which the latest target was the Spanish contingent. This attack was preceded by confessions from arrested terrorists about preparations against UNIFIL."

You have to wonder what Aridi was talking about. He and his political allies have been arguing, with considerable legitimacy, that Lebanon is today facing a Syrian effort to return to the country and torpedo the Hariri tribunal. In that case why fall back on a charade – a Syrian-created charade at that – that everything going wrong is the work of an obscure Salafist group facing annihilation in Nahr al-Bared? Once that fight is over and the bombings and killings continue, who will the Siniora government then blame? Indeed, who do we blame for the bombings and killings in 2005, when Fatah al-Islam wasn't even present in Lebanon?

Perhaps the Siniora government doesn't want to state the obvious: that what is going on in the South might involve Hizbullah more than it is prudent to admit at a moment of ambient sectarian tension. Maybe that's why Walid Jumblatt last week thanked Hizbullah for distancing itself from the rocket attack against Kiryat Shmona two Sundays ago. However, for the government to keep lines open is different than falling back on an absurd line of reasoning where it only discredits itself. By going along with the argument that an alleged Al-Qaeda group is the one targeting UNIFIL, the authorities are downplaying that what is taking place is the methodical dismantling of Resolution 1701. And that's not Al-Qaeda's priority; it is Iran's and Syria's priority, and Hizbullah's.

The killing of the soldiers is worrisome for other reasons. If the European contingents that form the backbone of UNIFIL become more timid in the South (and according to a senior March 14 politician, the Sunday bombing "scared" their governments), there is a risk that they will become gradually more dependent on Hizbullah, which has the most interest in neutralizing their mandate. Already, the word out among many journalists is that Hizbullah is protecting UNIFIL forces far more than UNIFIL is protecting the inhabitants of South Lebanon. If that view becomes generalized, if it reflects the reality of the situation in the border area, than we can start kissing Resolution 1701 goodbye. 

Perhaps most disquieting is that if the UNIFIL mandate begins breaking apart, it will be Israel that looks for ways around Resolution 1701 to defend its northern border. This would suit Hizbullah and its Iranian and Syrian patrons just fine, since it's the Israelis who would take the blame for returning South Lebanon to where it was before the summer 2006 war.

But the Israeli shift may come with an addendum: the next war in Lebanon, if there is one, could become a regional war. That's why the UN must do some serious thinking about how to respond to the Sunday bombing, beyond issuing verbal condemnations. And that's why it must press forward with controlling the Syrian-Lebanese border, even if there are electronic means to ensure that UN troops are not sitting ducks. 

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Comments (103)


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101. Alex said:

K,

I agree that when it comes to re-arming HA, probably a majority of Lebanese does not approve. And I’ll agree that there is a good chance that Syria is still doing that which, in theory, supports your position that Syria is interfereing in your country’s affairs.

But this is where is gets complicated… because in practice, this re-supply of missiles (if it is indeed taking place) does not change anything in terms of the internal balance of power. If Hizbollah lost a portion of its missiles during the last war and Syria tried to replenish that supply back to, say 20,000 missiles … what difference does it make to you? if Hizbollah ONLY had the remaining 13,000 missiles would that make it weaker in relation to Jeajea and Jumblatt for example?

Those extra missiles (such as the latest anti-tank missiles) are good for destroying Israeli tanks that occasionally invade your country. They are not going to be used against Seniora’s palace… Hizbollah’s existing 13,000 missiles and their fierce fighters would have had more than enough power to overthrough any Lebanese government in a day or two if they wanted to… or, in your way of seeing things, if Syria wanted them to.

So while Syria might be cooperating with some Lebanese factions and sending them weapons, those are NOT meant to overthrow the M14 anti-Syria government, they are meant to be part of the regional conflict … Lebanon can not be out of that conflict, regardless of what Syria does. There are many Lebanese who want to continue playing the nationalistic role… Syria did not force them to do so.

Please think twice before you believe that Syria is killing members of parliament so that they lose the majority … that majority is not going to disappear through assassinations. You really think Nasrallah and Aoun will one day say “oh look! … after the last ten assassinations, now it seems we have the majority!”

They are not that silly and they are not that desperate. And Syria is not that stupid and not that “thuggish”… a one-day overthrow of the government would have been faster and less torturous than this slow assassinations campaign that is gaining Syria more enemies in Lebanon with every new assassination.

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July 1st, 2007, 4:10 am

 

102. EHSANI2 said:

My dear friend Alex,

I did not try to make your comments comical by taking them to an extreme. My attempt was to highlight that America’s strategic choices in the region today stand in contrast to those of Syria.

Jumblatt and others in his camp have made it clear that they would like to see the Syrian leadership lose power in Damascus. It would not surprise me if the so-called Arab moderates share those same feelings, though they may choose not to be as vocal as Jumblatt to be sure.

Why are they doing this?

Because they feel threatened. Syria’s increasing strategic shift towards Iran has made it very difficult for the Arab regimes to continue to argue in favor of Syria’s stands. This shift of sentiment has not been restricted to one or two parties in the region. Indeed, it has been almost wholesale in nature. It is Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others.

The leadership in Damascus ought not have been surprised by the shifting sands in the region. It is well aware that Iran’s increased influence in the region sends shivers down the spines of most Arab regimes. When you sign a full defense treaty with that country, you cannot expect the rest of the Arab world to pretend that business is as usual.

Alex,

You seem to believe that the leadership in Damascus has made the correct calls when it comes to picking its partners and foes. I am more skeptical of the choices and the strategic decisions that have been made. History will judge who is right. In the meantime, we must not be surprised at the regional reaction to our country. You may argue that our leaders had no choice but to react this way once they saw the neocon’s plots to take them down. Again, call me a skeptic. Where you have blind trust in the ability of the leadership to play this regional chess game, I wonder if the continued losses of its pieces has not rendered it too weak and isolated to put the good fight. Again, only the history books will resolve the answer to this question.

By deciding to actively sabotage American interests in this critical region, Syria has taken on a monumental task. The only way for it to have a chance in this confrontation was to get into a catholic-type marriage with Iran. This has certainly made it harder for its foes to take her on. But, such a massive undertaking comes with a heavy price and unpredictable consequences. Let us hope that the leadership in Damascus has worked a good exit plan out of this predicament.

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July 1st, 2007, 4:49 am

 

103. Alex said:

Dear Ehsani,

This time you read me right .. almost : )

No “blind trust” : ) … they make mistakes too.

But in comparison to the way all the others have consistently failed miserably even though they had each other to make it work, I find that the Syrians (with their country’s limited resources) showed exceptional skills the past few decades.

Now, I beg to differ an the cause and effect part, the “Arab moderates” did not gang up on Bashar because he woke up one day with a stupid idea .. to get close to Iran. Bashar got closer to Iran AND TURKEY when he realized that the United States, Chirac, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, a group of Lebanese politicians close to Saudi Arabia, and in a semi committed way: Egypt .. all were on their way to gang up on Syria … again. THey have done it many times in the past that by now yo can easily tell when they seem to be convinced that there is a new window of opportunity to take on the Syrian regime, and on Syria’s role in the Middle East.

Am I sure the Syrians will make it through this big challenge? no.

But I am relatively confident they will.

Am I happy that they are taking on the monumental task of standing up to the Americans and all their friends? No.

But I am convinced they tried not to, however this administration did not have any role for Syria in the “New Middle East”.

As you said … we’ll sit and watch. We should know “the results” within two years …max.

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July 1st, 2007, 6:26 am

 

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