Across the Bay

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Burning Embassies

After the Syrian regime helped burn down the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus yesterday (with utter transparency I might add), the trend moved to Lebanon today.

Of course, unlike with Syria, in Lebanon's case the government had nothing to do with it, although it failed miserably, yet again, in handling the situation. A knowledgeable friend writes the following on the two episodes, and those who may have been involved in the Beirut riots:

Clearly this sort of thing [referring to what happened yesterday in Damascus] happens in Syria only when the regime decides it should happen. (There was a similar episode with the US embassy in Damascus in 2000.) Worth noting that Denmark has been on the Security Council for the past year and voted for all the resolutions dealing with Syria and Lebanon. The regime may trying to have it both ways: on the one hand, it says to the Danes, among others, that the Syrian regime can "reach out and touch you" with impunity. On the other hand, they may yet hope to use this, as they've used other incidents over the past year in Syria and Lebanon, to make themselves look like a indispensable bulwark against fundamentalism and chaos, to survive the Hariri investigation. But their role in this is just too transparent for any serious observer to buy the second line.

Today's riots in Beirut were surely connected to yesterday's in Damascus, and appear to have had multiple objectives. The mass of demonstrators seems to have been infiltrated by groups like the Ahbash and Tawheed, and those were probably the ones behind the violence. The Syrians probably still have enough agents, sympathizers, and tools here to cause problems on this scale.

The image to be conveyed was that Lebanese Sunnis are all fanatics, and that the community as a whole is out of control -- a useful optic for the regime in Damascus. The provocations made in predominantly-Christian neighborhoods will help keep things on the boil here, which is also in the regime's interest.

The Interior Ministry was virtually absent the whole morning. The images of ISF Land Cruisers being overturned and trashed, and of fire engines being commandeered by the protesters while the Danish consulate burned are a major humiliation of the government. Michel Aoun's argument criticizing the Siniora government's handling of security will only strengthen after this.

The Ahbash are the group infiltrated by and beholden to the Syrian regime. They were used by the regime to bully the traditional Sunni establishment, and they were used in the Hariri assassination. The Syrians have been increasingly using the Islamist (and al-Qaeda affiliates) element in Lebanon. The relationship of the regime with militant Salafis is not at all how it presents it. The West is not duped by this all-too-transparent show, no matter how much Landis wishes it to be the case in his latest stupid post. The reality is actually the opposite. The "bulwark against Islamists" charade no longer holds water.

Update: Michael Young's take over at Reason's Hit and Run. See also this older piece of his in TCS, which dealt with Syria and Islamists.

Update 2: Breaking news: I just heard on Future TV that the Interior Minister, Hasan Sabe' submitted his resignation to the cabinet. He did not wait for a response, and left the session. He told journalists that among those arrested today from the rioters were 76 Syrians and 38 Palestinians as well as 25 without passports (bedouins). There were also something like 130 30 Lebanese arrested (I can't remember the exact number). Addendum: This Reuters reports claims there were 38 Lebanese arrested.

There has got to be accountability for this travesty.

Update 3: Some of the things Aoun said in reaction to the riots lend credence to Michael Young's theory about the Future Movement (the Hariri party) sharing part of the blame.