Syria has suffered serious setbacks in Lebanon and will
probably suffer more in the near future. At the same time,
Israel is working to pin the blame for the recent terror
bombing in Tel Aviv on Damascus, and the United States has
had running complaints against Syria for its attitude and
behavior towards its neighbor Iraq and its support of world
Syria has been a presence in Lebanon for more than 20 years.
It first moved in during the Lebanese civil war between
Moslems and Christians that lasted from about 1975 to about
1990. The so-called Taif accord ended the Lebanese civil war
and it also provided that Syria pull back its troops from the
Lebanese coast and the mountains to the Bekaa Valley near the
Syrian border, and eventually out of Lebanon altogether.
Although the Lebanese have returned to a fairly stable
coexistence among themselves, Syria has remained a dominant
power in Lebanese politics. In addition to its influence on
the Lebanese government, it also has a certain degree of
authority over the actions of the terrorist Hizbullah
movement that is based in Lebanon.
The recent developments began in October 2004 when the
Syrians forced legislative action to allow an extension of
President Emile Lahoud's term in office. Lahoud is a Moslem
and an ally of Syria. The prime minister is traditionally a
Christian. In response to the blatant Syrian intervention,
Prime Minister Rafik Hariri resigned. He was assassinated
February 14 in a huge car bomb explosion, apparently because
of his power and his opposition to a continued Syrian
presence in Lebanon. Now it appears that the murder may
instead hasten Syria's departure from Lebanon.
The UN, under French and US pressure, has been demanding that
Syria leave Lebanon based on UN Security Council Resolution
1559. It demanded that Lebanon hold presidential elections,
that Syrian troops pull out of Lebanon and that Syria stop
interfering in Lebanese affairs.
Since the assassination thousands of Lebanese have
demonstrated peacefully against the Syrian presence in their
country. Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karame first asked
Syria if he could resign more than a week ago. The Syrians
said no, so Karame didn't hand in his resignation.
But on Monday this week Karame resigned anyway, and his move
may be only the first in a series of steps Syria will have to
take to satisfy tumultuous Lebanese public opinion and to
preserve what remains of its stature in Lebanon. Between
25,000 and 60,000 Lebanese walked past Lebanese Army and
police forces wearing the symbolic red-and-white national
colored scarves in downtown Beirut. Lebanese opposition
leaders said their next goal is to force pro-Syrian President
Emile Lahoud to resign and the Syrians to withdraw from
Syria announced last week that it will begin moving its
troops eastward, though it has not done anything on the
ground. This week Syrian sources in Lebanon were leaking that
Syrian President Bashar Assad plans to fire Rustum Ghazal,
head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon and the focal point of
the anger of the Lebanese.
This crisis will certainly be a test of Assad. It may be that
if he suffers a significant loss in Lebanon he will come
under severe criticism from the Syrian military.
Syria has also been under intense pressure from the United
States since the latter's invasion of Iraq. Syria has long
supported terror and is on the US State Department's list of
state supporters of terror. Though it joined the American
coalition in the Iraq war, the US accused it of allowing
Iraqi officials to escape over its border, and some said that
Iraqi weapons were also hidden in Syria.
In the years since the end of the hostilities in Iraq there
were persistent accusations that Syria was at least allowing
Moslem volunteers to infiltrate Iraq across its border to
fight the US forces. Syria has also supported Hizbullah, an
organization that killed hundreds of American troops in
Lebanon, and that is on the official US list of terror
Israeli officials have been saying for months that Hizbullah
is trying to arrange for Palestinian proxies to attack
Israelis in order to foil the recent movement toward peace in
the area that has been supported by the whole world, and also
that Hizbullah has taken up from Saddam Hussein the task of
paying thousands of dollars to the families of Palestinian
This week the Israeli Foreign Ministry went on a diplomatic
offensive against Syria, presenting evidence linking it to
Friday's terror attack in Tel Aviv to ambassadors and
officials from countries on the UN Security Council. The
attack murdered five people.
It also sent a senior intelligence official to London, Paris
and Washington to make Israel's case against Syria. "We
[want] to show them that there is a direct link from Syria to
the Islamic Jihad [which was responsible for the attack],"
said Foreign Ministry Director-General Ron Prosor.
The Syrian government has strongly denied any connection to
the blast. "This issue is untrue and baseless," the Syrian
Interior Minister said on Monday.
Foreign Ministry Silvan Shalom said that instructions for the
attack came from the Islamic Jihad's leadership, "which is
located in Syria."
Shalom said that Hizbullah also had spent millions of dollars
to support terrorist activity within Israel.
US Embassy spokesman Paul Patin told The Jerusalem
Post that, "Israel has laid out its case. We will take
seriously what Israel says and study it." He added that even
before the attack, the United States considered the Islamic
Jihad to be a terrorist organization. "As for Syria," he
said, "our problems with Syria are well known."
Islamic Jihad leaders in Damascus, who initially denied
involvement in the Tel Aviv terror attack, reversed
themselves Monday and accepted responsibility. An Islamic
Jihad official said that the attack was the work of a small
cell acting on its own.
Israel insisted the attack was the work of the Islamic Jihad
leadership, not simply a rogue cell.
On Tuesday the UN Security Council condemned the Tel Aviv
terror attack, but did not mention Islamic Jihad. The
organization was mentioned in the original statement,
initiated by the United States. However Algeria insisted that
it be removed. Such statements need the consent of all
Council members to be issued.
Israel is also continuing to pressure the PA to start
dismantling terrorist organizations in the territories.
Without such action, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, no diplomatic progress
will be possible, because the terror will continue, and
Israel cannot accept that.
Defense Minister Mofaz said that Israel will not allow
Islamic Jihad's representative to go to Cairo for talks with
leaders of the other Palestinian terrorist organizations
about a formal cease-fire with Israel. He also said that no
Jihad members will be included in the list of 400 Palestinian
prisoners that Israel plans to release in the coming
Justice Ministry Tzipi Livni said that she has canceled a
planned meeting of the joint Israeli-Palestinian committee on