Lebanon Is on the Brink. Syria Begins Arming its Supporters

Lebanon’s climate has been charged with latent violence since the assassination Monday, February 14, of Lebanese former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, and his funeral two days later. Sparks began flying when the opposition unveiled their “peaceful democratic uprising for independence” Friday, February 18, and, as revealed by debkafile‘s intelligence sources, Syrian forces began distributing weapons to groups supporting Damascus and the 1.4 million expatriate laborers in the country.
The resignations of president Emil Lahoude and the Karame government were forcefully demanded by the opposition leader, Walid Jumblatt, head of the Lebanese Druses who speaks for a rare multiethnic coalition made up of his own community, Christian factions endorsed by Maronite Catholic Archbishop Nasrallah Sfeir, and Sunni Muslims led by the dead billionaire’s oldest son, Bahaa Hariri, with the blessing of the Sunni Muslim Mufti of Lebanon.
Saturday, February 19, Omar Karame, who succeeded Rafiq Hariri as prime minister, accused this group of attempting a coup d’etat.
The belligerent Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned (or threatened) that “popular agitation against Syria’s grip on the country following the killing of Rafiq Hariri could plunge Lebanon into civil war again. Backed solidly from Damascus and Tehran, he exhorted the 100,000 Shiites massed in Beirut to mark the Ashura festival not to forget the real enemy. “Death to Israel!” they roared after him.
All three uprisings launched in the Middle East in five years were steeped in violence. In 1991, after the first Gulf War, Iraq’s Shiites rose up against the Saddam regime. Thousands were savagely mowed down by his tanks. Syria’s Kurdish community challenged Assad in 2003, only to lose thousands of dead and many more thrown into Syria’s prisons. The Palestinian confrontation with Israel has left 5,000 Palestinian and 1,300 Israelis dead since 2000.
The sparks will fly in earnest when government and Syrians move into aggressive mode to crush the opposition, which will become increasingly inflamed by multiplying leads to Syria and its Lebanese minions as Hariri’s assassins.
Our sources report that US, French and Israeli intelligence have already gathered solid evidence that General Rostum Ghazallah of Syrian military intelligence orchestrated the murder on orders from Damascus with the aid of Lebanese general intelligence and its chief General Jamil al-Sayad.
The Damascus-backed government in Beirut and its masters has no intention of going quietly. Bashar Assad desperately needs the political and economic benefits he extorts from Lebanon to prop up his regime.
Monday, February 21, presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac meet in Paris. With Lebanon at the forefront of their agenda, they will have to look hard at some tough questions. How to handle the situation if Assad orders his Syrian troops in Lebanon to march on Beirut in defense of his puppet government? And worse still, what if the full weight of the Syrian army is sent across the border to squash the uprising? Will the two Western leaders dispatch a joint US-French force to repulse the Syrian onslaught?
If they did, it would be the most drastic event to hit the Middle East since the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. The second American invasion of an Arab land might this time be partnered or endorsed by a European power.
To force the hands of the American and French presidents, the leaders of the Lebanese uprising are preparing a spectacular event to coincide with their summit. One proposal is for a hundreds of thousands of protesters to march through Beirut’s streets and seize the parliament building.
Other “intifada” events in the planning:
1. Giant rallies to strangle normal life in the capital.
2. A human chain from Hariri’s tomb to government headquarters on the seam-line dividing the Hizballah-dominated southern district from the Christian-controlled West that would aim to paralyze government activity
Opposition leaders have notified Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, head of the Shiite Amal, that the only session they will allow to be held is an open debate on the murder of the former prime minister that produces the formation of a state inquiry commission.
3. This commission’s mandatory guideline must be to call General Rostum Ghazallah as its first witness.
4. The mobilization of Lebanese expatriate communities in the United States and Europe for synchronized street rallies to generate broad international popular sympathy on the same lines as Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.
5. Armenian Christians in Lebanon and Western countries will be asked to join the struggle.
The campaign waged by this anti-Syrian coalition faces three major challenges:
First,to keep a tight rein on the uprising so that it does not run out of control and degenerate into a bloodbath and all-out civil strife.
Second, to divide the hitherto pro-Syrian Shiite community against itself. If parliament speaker Berri can be won over to the opposition side against the government, the Shiites will be split between Amal and Hizballah. This will sunder the entire pro-Syrian front and seriously shake the government.
debkafile‘s Lebanese sources report that most Karame cabinet ministers have departed Beirut to avoid the sound and fury following the assassination; the tourism minister has resigned. President Lahoud has not so far uttered a word on the crisis, no doubt waiting for his script to be written in Damascus.
Third,The opposition must prove it can get the masses out on the streets for long, sustained rallies. Its failure to muster sizeable popular backing would foredoom the intifada to failure. If the struggle peters out, Syria will tighten its grip on Lebanon and go from strength to strength, with adverse effect on America’s strategic position in the region and a setback for Israel too.
With the old Levant under their jackboots, the Syrians will quickly expand their role as main crossroads for international terrorists moving back and forth among their targeted arenas – whether into Iraq or over to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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