Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN secretary general’s special envoy for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, spent several days in the Middle East this month.
Upon arrival in Paris Monday, March 27, he met French foreign minister Philippe Douste–Blazy, and expounded on some of his conclusions.
It was urgent, he said, to implement the agreements reached in “the Lebanese national dialogue.” He also stressed in particular the need to delineate the Lebanese-Syrian border, and establish formal diplomatic relations between Damascus and Beirut.
“The outstretched hand of a united Lebanon should be grabbed by Syria,” he added. “It takes two to tango.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Beirut sources report exclusively that Terje-Larsen’s statements were made under the impression of a new Syrian proposal to solve the Lebanese impasse and ease Damascus’ troubled relations with the US and the UN. The proposal was brought to the UN envoy in Beirut by secret Syrian messengers sent from Damascus to brief him.
The Syrian proposal is outlined by our exclusive sources:
1. President Assad is for the first time seriously considering permitting work to start on the demarcation of the international border dividing Syria and Lebanon. Syria has never before accepted the need for demarcation, claiming the two countries’ interests were so close they had no need of a frontier.
2. Assad is also open for the first time to an exchange of ambassadors and the opening of embassies in both capitals, a token of his recognition that Syria and Lebanon are two separate and independent states.
3. He agrees to border delineation work beginning at the disputed Shebaa Farms at the meeting point on Mt. Hermon of the Syrian, Israel and Lebanese borders.
Until now Assad stipulated the work must start at Latakia in the north, claiming that the entire Lebanese-Syrian Mediterranean shoreline was a single geographical and political continuum.
This change of attitude affects the controversy drummed up over Shabaa Farms by the Hizballah and backed by Syria, as the pretext for the border clashes Hizballah provokes every few weeks on the Israeli border.
Pulling the rug from the HIzballah
That controversy was also used to provide legitimacy for the armed militia Hizballah maintains in South Lebanon and the bristling row of 12,000 rockets and missiles poised on the Israeli border.
Some of those systems, especially the long-range Zelzal-2 and Mushak-200 (the Iranian version of the Russian short-range Frog-7) necessitate the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers for maintenance and operations.
For five years, Hizballah’s secretary general Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has argued he needs all this fighting strength and war materiel available to liberate the Shebaa Farms from Israel and restore it Lebanese sovereignty.
The UN Security Council has repeatedly belied this argument, reaffirming time and again that the resolution passed in 2000, after Israeli troops pulled out of South Lebanon, was based on the “blue line” UN surveyors drew to mark the Lebanon-Israel border.
That line placed the Shabaa Farms squarely in sovereign Syria – not Lebanon.
The disputed enclave’s final disposition must therefore be determined in Israeli talks with Syria – not Lebanon.
That being so, Hizballah has no grounds for its militia to remain armed, in occupation of South Lebanon, and constantly harassing Israel. The Shiite militia must therefore comply with Security Council resolution 1559 and disarm.
Assad, by consenting to marking the border at the Shebaa farms instead of Latakia, was informing the UN envoy that he meant what he said about delineating the border between his country and Lebanon.
Terje-Larsen was a member of the UN team that drew the blue line five years ago and instrumental in determining that the Shebaa Farms belong to Syria. Assad’s sudden turnaround pulled the rug from under his foremost Lebanese ally, Hizballah, a signal concession for which the Syrian president could be expected to demand payment in full.
The demand was duly delivered to the UN emissary before he ended his Middle East mission. It produced Terje-Larsen’s puzzling statement that signaled a major policy reversal by the world body, apparently out of the blue.
If America plays ball, Syria will remove Emil Lahoud
“We don’t believe that it is indeed possible to go down south (Lebanon) and into the Beka’a Valley (in the east) and take away the weapons of Hizballah,” said the UN envoy. “This is impossible and an irrelevant issue.”
He went on to say, “But we do believe that what should happen with all Lebanese militias – and Hizballah is the last remaining significant Lebanese militia – is that they should be molded into the Lebanese army.”
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources, Assad through his messengers to the UN envoy demanded that the United States and Israel foot the bill for his concession on the Shebaa Farms by meeting certain conditions:
– Israel must do its part by announcing its withdrawal from the positions it holds at the Shebaa Farms and on the western slopes of Mt Hermon. Syrian troops would then take over this strategic border sector.
Our Jerusalem sources disclose that a proposal was put before prime minister Ariel Sharon and the former chief of staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon a year ago for the IDF to pull out of the enclave of its own accord as a lever to make the Hizballah disarm. Sharon never reached a decision on this plan. A decision now falls to incoming prime minister Ehud Olmert.
– The Americans must ease their crushing pressure on president Assad over his suspected complicity in the Hariri assassination. What the Syrian ruler is aiming for is for himself, his brother-in-law and his brother to be let off the hook of the UN inquiry.
Even before the Syrian proposal reached Washington, the Bush administration had sanctioned a conciliatory gesture. The report the UN investigator Serge Brammertz presented to UN secretary general Kofi Annan in mid-March commended the Syrian president by affirming: “Progress has been made in the critical area of cooperation with Syria.”
These are the kindest words the Syrian ruler has heard from the world body in many months, although his conduct rightly deserves the very opposite. Not only has he withheld cooperation from the UN Hariri probe, but his intelligence agents are back at their old tricks of meddling in Lebanese affairs.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 246 of March 17: Syrian Intelligence Returns to Lebanon)
Assad’s final word is that, if Washington and Jerusalem meet his terms and reward him for his concessions, he will be willing to assist the US and France in their key objective of ridding Lebanon of his stooge, president Emile Lahoud.