Across the Bay

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Decoding Moallem's "Security Cooperation"

With every passing day, the Syrian agenda becomes clearer, vindicating the analysis I laid out a couple of days ago regarding Syrian designs and objectives.

Walid Moallem has now formulated (Arabic original here) the practical meaning of the Syrian declarations regarding Lebanon and the alleged (but mythical) "Salafi threat." The formulation is, once again, nothing new and spells the never-ending Syrian quest for forceful domination of Lebanon:

"The question of the border between Syria and Lebanon needs two actions: delineation (of the frontier) and Syrian-Lebanese security cooperation ... Nobody can control the borders with Lebanon."

Decoder, please. The key term here is "security cooperation." Once you understand what this means, the statement's sinister implications become clear. To understand the reference points, whenever you hear that term, "cooperation," uttered by a Syrian official, always think along the lines of the "Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation and Coordination" that the Syrian regime forced upon a vassal Lebanon under the boot of Syrian military occupation in 1991. That Treaty essentially codified the complete Syrian domination and dictating of Lebanese affairs. That's Assad's view of "normal" relations with Lebanon. As he put it earlier in the year, and again to recent visitors, the normal state of these relations, in Assad's mind, is "how they were a few years ago" -- i.e., when Syria military occupied Lebanon.

What Moallem is proposing here is also not new. This is what the one-track minded regime has been trying to impose since its forced withdrawal in 2005. Specifically, this dates back to January 2006.

On January 8, 2006, Assad flew to Jeddah for a meeting with King Abdullah, at the height of the Mehlis probe and request to interrogate the Syrian dictator over the Hariri assassination.

During the talks, Assad presented a series of "proposals" to "reduce tensions" with Lebanon, such as reactivation of the bilateral security committee, coordination on foreign policy, and an end to the Lebanese "media campaign" and "inflammatory statements by politicians." When news of the proposals leaked, Lebanese officials flatly rejected them, while Saudi and Egyptians officials denying any support for them.

In mid-January, the Syrians tried again. Farouq Sharaa gave Saud al-Faysal, who was leading an initiative at the time, a paper with the Syrian demands. First and foremost on that paper was a demand for "security and foreign policy cooperation and coordination."

Lebanese politicians, led by Walid Jumblat, shot down this transparent attempt at reestablishing Syrian hegemony. Jumblat said that what the Syrians were trying to get with this clause of "coordination" was the reinstatement of the Anjar mukhabarat headquarters -- the notorious seat of Gen. Rustom Ghazaleh, where Lebanese politicians were handed threats and orders, and where countless Lebanese were tortured and murdered.

Given that the Syrian intention towards Lebanon has not changed one iota, Moallem now is repeating the same sinister line. This also comes after the Syrians insisted on not abolishing the 1991 Treaty of Cooperation or the Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council which emerged from it -- both symbols of the hated Syrian occupation and plundering of Lebanon, even as they nominally and theoretically accepted the demand to set up an embassy in Lebanon for the first time since independence.

There might be more at play here. Moallem's statements came after two events involving the US and France.

First, during his stay in NY for the UN General Assembly, Moallem insistently requested a meeting with Sec. Rice. She gave him a brief meeting (a public 10-minute chat on the sidelines of an Iftar dinner with Arab Foreign Ministers), which he, and Syria's hounds and poodles predictably then tried to spin out of proportion as a "thaw" in relations and other garbage of that nature.

In reality, however, not only did Rice (and then Welch, in a very short meeting) repeat the exceedingly long list of complaints about subversive Syrian behavior, and delivered a very tough message, but, importantly, they made sure to specifically warn Moallem against any Syrian thought of using the pretext of "Salafist terrorism" in order to intervene militarily in Lebanon.

This was important since all the propaganda campaign regarding the "jihadist threat" in Lebanon was pitched in large part to the US -- in order to revive the old (nothing with the Syrians is new) canard of "intelligence cooperation against terror." (On this see the illustrious garbage of the caricature-thug Imad Mustapha and the geniuszzz Bashar groupie Flynt Leverett, et al.).

It was telling to read how a Syrian source put it to an-Nahar:

Muallem came to tell the United States "in a positive way" Syria's stand on the developments in the region after these developments – and as a result of the U.S. policy – had a "dangerous" effect on more than one country Washington claims to be working to maintain its sovereignty and independence.

Muallem, according to the sources, also came to inform the U.S. administration that terrorism – which the U.S. claims to be fighting -- has reached an extent that requires change in America's strategy in countering terrorism based on "mutual work" with the various victims, including Syria.

The sources stressed that Muallem presented a "reading" that showed the U.S. administration's "fault" in its efforts to weaken Syria "since the beneficiary of weakening Syria is terrorism."

It doesn't get any clearer than this. Plainly, Moallem insisted on meeting Rice in order to try that sales pitch once again, in light of the explosions in Damascus and Tripoli. It's glaringly transparent. And the Syrians got rebuffed and warned not to think of interfering militarily in Lebanon.

The US wasn't alone. In a very important, timely and telling move, the French also issued a number of public statements to three different papers, warning the Syrians on several points, including, specifically, on military incursion in Lebanon (thereby expressing timely unity with the US position):

France on Tuesday has reportedly warned Syria against any military intervention in north Lebanon in the wake of repeated bomb attacks in Damascus and Tripoli.
The daily As Safir, citing French sources, said Paris has advised Syria against allowing recent bomb attacks in Damascus and Tripoli to "affect Syria's commitment to Lebanon or allowing change in French-Syrian priorities that have been agreed on toward strengthening stability in Lebanon."
The source said France is relaying "letters" to Damascus warning it against any intervention "which could take the situation in Lebanon back to square one, in addition to the collapse of the understandings in which a roadmap had been drawn to strengthen stability" in the country.

The reference to the "priorities that have been agreed on" is also significant. It was the subject of another French statement, expressing a growing French impatience with the typical Syrian doublespeak and tricks aimed at avoiding any serious concession on Lebanon:

France believes Syria is stalling in implementing commitments to Lebanon, especially the issue of setting up diplomatic ties, but reassures Beirut that no settlement would be achieved with Damascus at Lebanon's expense.
A ranking French diplomat who accompanied President Nicolas Sarkozy to the United Nations General Assembly deliberations told Naharnet a "sharp pulling of ropes is underway between Paris and Damascus" over implementation of Syria's commitments in Lebanon.

He spoke of a "new" French policy towards Syria, terming it a "new style aimed at implementing the same targets and aims."

France believes Syria is trying to stall on implementing the issue of setting up diplomatic ties with Lebanon by keeping them within the framework of the declaration of principles.

"France wants a quick Syrian shift into practical implementation of the commitment, which is not in line with the Syrian concept outlined by President Bashar Assad who said the issue requires several months and might spread to after New Year," he explained.

Delaying accepting credentials of the new Syrian Ambassador to France was a "clear message by the French administration to Assad" protesting against the delay in setting up diplomatic ties with Beirut, according to the ranking French diplomat.

Accepting credentials of the new Syrian Ambassador to Paris would be "directly linked to practical and tangible (Syrian) steps along the track of setting up diplomatic ties between Damascus and Beirut," he promised.

French sources have confirmed to me that the French position on Syria is hardening, partly as a result of the sharp criticism that followed Sarkozy's trip to Syria.

But the issue of the "priorities" that the Syrians told the French they would do is of significance here, in how it relates to Moallem's statement.

Hence, it is instructive to read what Bernard Kouchner said today regarding the Syrian troop deployment along the Lebanese border:

"I don't know why they deployed these troops. And you [reporters] say 'along the borders.' What borders? There are no [delineated] borders, and they have to be demarcated."

When the Syrians agreed nominally and theoretically ("in principle") to the exchange of embassies (which they followed by a series of demands, conditions and hurdles), they insisted, as I noted above, on retaining the Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council, in a highly telling move.

Now, Moallem has intentionally linked the issue of border demarcation with a "security cooperation" agreement. In other words, he's saying: "you want embassies and border demarcation ("in principle," of course)? Then you need to hand us security and policy domination over Lebanon according to the terms of the 1991 Treaty which we imposed during our occupation. In other words, Anjar redux."

Lastly, Moallem's seemingly laughable comments about arms smuggling to Hezbollah are also an example of Syrian doublespeak. "Nobody can control the borders with Lebanon" is not just an affirmation that Syria will continue to violate the UN Security Council resolutions, and its empty promises to anyone foolish enough to "engage" it, but it also prepares the ground for continued support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups regardless of any future "engagement" or "peace process" or even a theoretical "peace deal," since "nobody can control the border," even as he ties the total political and security domination of Lebanon as conditions for any "engagement" or "peace talks," leaving it up to the sinister, the clueless and the gullible alike to read into this doublespeak what they please.

The bottom line is that Syria is hellbent on redominating Lebanon, by force. That's the meaning of Moallem's statement and the campaign on the heels of the latest explosions. That's why we've maintained over the years that engagement with this regime is a dead end, as the interests are diametrically opposed. To quote from Moallem's own interview, "there is no common ground."