Across the Bay

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Making Good on Threats

The Syrian regime has repeatedly threatened to destabilize Lebanon if the UN Security Council does not back down. Now that the UNSC is meeting to issue a resolution urging Syria to demarcate its borders with Lebanon, exchange embassies, stop smuggling arms to Palestinian and other factions, and stop its disruptive interference in Lebanese affairs, the Syrian regime is making good on its threats.

First, a pro-Syrian Palestinian group, Fateh-Intifada, clashed with a Lebanese Army patrol, injuring a soldier and kidnapping another.

This move is meant to send various messages, one of which is probably a response to the reopening of the PLO office in Beirut, which is meant to formalize and attempt to structure Lebanese-Palestinian affairs away from Damascus' manipulation (as has been the case for years), and attempts to address the issue of Palestinian arms and their status in Lebanon. It is also a way to show that the Lebanese consensus to disarm the Palestinians outside the camps -- in fact, the decision of the "national dialogue" altogether, including border demarcation and diplomatic exchange -- is meaningless (which is what Minister Marwan Hamade said in response to the clash earlier today). It's a message to the UNSC as well as to the Lebanese.

In fact, one of the reasons for the arrest of Michel Kilo and a host of other Syrian activists, was a joint statement with Lebanese intellectuals which called on Syria to correct its relations with Lebanon, demarcate the borders, and exchange embassies, recognizing Lebanese independence and sovereignty and ceasing interference in Lebanese affairs. (The other, more significant, reason was Kilo's article, which touched on sectarian divisions in Syria, a big no-no despite, or rather because of, the fact that the entire essence of Syria's socio-political culture, not to mention its regime, is nothing but sectarian!).

Then, to drive the point home (to everyone: Lebanese, Syrians, and the Intl. Comm.), the Syrian regime reshut the border crossing with Lebanon (northern Lebanon, 'Abboudiyye), causing Lebanese trucks to be stopped at the border, as they did last summer. It thus threatens to reuse the blockade card, especially with Lebanon's summer tourism season around the corner. Of course, Syria has always used this card with Lebanon, going all the way back to the 50's.

Bashar is not budging from his hardline, zero-sum brinkmanship. This has been his position from the beginning, and now that he's a full-blown Iranian client, he's relishing this role even more. All of this highlights what I have been saying all along, that ultimately there is no real option other than regime change in Syria. It all comes back to that conclusion.

Update: The UNSC resolution passed by a majority 13 votes, with Russia and China abstaining from voting.

Update 2: The Syrian foreign ministry has responded to the UNSC resolution by calling it "a provocation" that "complicates the situation." I guess now that the regime has been "provoked" it will continue to "complicate the situation" in Lebanon.