Across the Bay

Monday, February 14, 2005

Thugs for Life

With all the talk about the Syrians reforming and so on, one might lose perspective. Well, not really. The Syrians reminded everyone exactly who they are by assassinating ex-PM Rafiq Hariri (who was to be the Sunni flank of the opposition) in a car blast in Beirut. This comes a few months after their attempt on the life of Druze MP Marwan Hamade. The Syrians were warned against political assassination, namely of Jumblat or Hariri. A French official reportedly told al-Hayat that a hit on one of these officials will signal a "total, final and irrevocable divorce with the international community." It's a red line that the Syrians have crossed, once again snubbing the international communtiy. This incredibly stupid move will cost them dearly. (See this brief post by Michael Young for more.)

It will be argued, due to the suicidal implications of this hit, whether Bashar himself okayed it, or whether it was one of the power centers or one of the many security apparatuses. No one's clear on this issue. I spoke with a knowledgeable source when I was in Lebanon, and they were rather dismissive of the multipolar theory. It's Bashar's inner circle that decides.

These guys, as Michael said, simply don't want to leave Lebanon. This desperate, shortsighted, irrational behavior is the sign of a regime cracking under pressure. They've been gasping like a fish out of water, coming up with all kinds of unworkable alternatives, all in order not to bow to international pressure (which they will have to eventually of course). You'll remember in one of my recent posts I mentioned opposition members Walid Jumblat's and MP Nassib Lahoud's offer to give Syria some cover by asking it to leave according to a full implementation of the Taef accord (and under a new timetable drawn by a new freely elected government, and not Syria's cronies). This "amicable alternative" was apparently discussed between Chirac and Larsen (see second link above). But Syria was warned that that was its "last chance." Well, apparently that won't fly. Which makes the intentions rather clear (not that they weren't): Syria does not want to leave, period.

Well, what we'll be watching now is whether what was once Syria's window to regional relevance will become its political graveyard. Let's see if they will continue to hold on to a sinking ship. But that's what desperate regimes operating on borrowed time do.