Across the Bay

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Bashar Arafat, Again!

This is a follow-up to a post over at From Beirut to the Beltway.

Everybody in the media, especially the regime flaks, were hopping up and down about how Kofi Annan got "promises" from Bashar Assad to cooperate in the implementation of UNR 1701. Nonsense. First of all, Bashar said nothing. There was no official Syrian statement at all on this matter. It was Annan who did the talking. What Bashar did, was exactly what he did with his gullible Spanish friend, Miguel Angel Moratinos: he belied all the statements made by his guest about any commitments by Syria!

Right after Annan left Syria, Bashar's pitbulls, FM Walid Moallem and Information Minister Mohsen Bilal, made public statements that made Annan, and anyone else stupid enough to believe Assad, look like a fool. The Lebanese press knew it all along, as they've become quite accustomed to Assad's tactics.

In these statements, the Syrian ministers revealed what Assad really had in mind. It revealed that Assad still believes he does not have to give anything and he can expect everything in return. It also revealed that Assad's primary goal (forget the silliness about the Golan) -- what he is dead set on reclaiming -- is reestablishing domination over Lebanon.

The ministers first repeated cliches we'd been hearing for months on all the issues of contention: 1- border demarcation. Syria offered nothing new. "No demarcation in Shebaa." 2- Exchanging diplomatic representation. "It's a matter to be settled between the two countries when the atmosphere is better." And so on and so forth.

Not only that, the two pitbulls made even more revealing statements. For instance, Moallem talked about willingness to help patrol the Syrian-Lebanese border, but only after the establishment of "joint security committees." Now for those new to the Syrian lexicon, let me remind you of what the Syrians tried to do back in January, when the misguided Saudis and Egyptians were trying to "patch things up" with Syria (only to fail miserably, and predictably). Back then, the Syrians slipped a condition into an initiative by the Saudis that demanded (you guessed it) "joint security coordination" between Lebanon and Syria. Back then, Walid Jumblat called this charade for what it is: an attempt to reestablish Syrian domination of the security apparatus of the Lebanese government. Needless to say, such "coordination" would virtually ensure that Hezbollah get their rockets delivered, with cherry on top. But more than that, it reveals Syria's undying intent to redominate Lebanon. That, not the Golan, is Assad's real goal.

Moallem went further, again repeating the threats of using al-Qaeda and the regime concoction, "Jund al-Sham."

Not to be outdone, his comrade Mohsen Bilal made another interesting statement about disarming Hezbollah. He wondered how Syria could be asked to help disarming Hezbollah "when we're now out of Lebanon." A commentary on the website of Abdel Halim Khaddam picked up on the statements of Moallem and Bilal, and noted in particular that last one by Bilal. The commentators understood that as a floater by the Syrians to try and get a deal to reenter Lebanon.

In other words, there's nothing new here. Bashar, as always, lies through his teeth. Makes a zillion promises, and immediately recants, embarrassing whomever he made the promises to. Just ask Colin Powell, Richard Armitage (who can't get enough apparently!), Jacques Chirac, Martin Indyk, Hosni Mubarak, etc. etc. etc. In the Arab press, a line has already circulated about Bashar, contrasting him with his father. It's based on what an Arab diplomat allegedly told Bashar. Hafez made very few promises, the line goes, but kept them. Bashar on the other hand, makes many promises, and never delivers. That's why I dubbed him Bashar Arafat. The track record -- unlike the cheerleaders, the flaks, and the propagandists -- never lies. This is a thug, after all, not a statesman.

Bashar is a maximalist hardliner, as evident from his speeches (read the excellent piece by David Schenker on his latest speech and his interview in al-Osboua', which I hope to return to later) and his thuggish behavior. He is dead set on redominating Lebanon, and he is firm in his belief that he will be given everything he wants without having to give up anything (and here remember, the so-called "cards" of the regime are never up for trade. They are the policy). This was confirmed by Khaddam back in December when he defected. In his interview on al-Arabiya, he revealed that Bashar was getting advice, including from US advisors, that he shouldn't worry or give anything on Lebanon and Iraq. Eventually, he was told, the Americans will come crawling back. Everything so far shows that this is precisely what Bashar has in mind. He has such contempt for the West that he believes, to paraphrase Daniel Pipes, that they will pay him to help himself.

As such, the US and the French approach to Bashar is the absolute right one.