From the first gesture and words greeting him in Riyadh on Thursday, March, Syrian president Bashar Assad understood his mission was a washout. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah greeted him with a cool handshake. The customary fraternal embrace and kisses on two cheeks were absent. Before his Syrian guest could ask for help and support in his escalating dispute with America over Lebanon, Crown Prince Abdullah burst out.
“Don’t tell me the Jews killed our brother Rafiq Hariri. You have killed our brother, a member of our family. Don’t you realize you have killed one of us? How can I stand beside you for photos?”
The Syrian ruler hurriedly departed Riyadh – not merely humiliated and rebuffed. An accusation by a Saudi Arab of having killed his brother carries with it an oath of vengeance. Until it is exacted, no member of the Saudi royal family will communicate with any member of Assad’s ruling circle.
After he was gone, the Saudi government issued a statement fully supporting the American position and calling on Syria to obey Washington’s demand to quit Lebanon.
That was just the beginning of Assad’s troubles from fellow Arab leaders.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources report that a bombshell landed on the presidential desk in Damascus this week: a secret missive sent collectively by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco. The same message went also to Lebanese president Emil Lahoud in Beirut. Our sources reveal that it warned them both that the coming Arab summit in Algiers on March 22 cannot avoid endorsing Security Council Resolution 1559 that calls on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon. The summit will moreover endorse Clause 3 that requires all armed Lebanese militias to be disarmed.
The staunchly Sunni Saudis were always dead against the radical Shiite Hizballah. Now, their animosity has been strengthened by their conviction that the organization was active in the planning and execution of Lebanese ex-prime minister Hariri’s assassination.
Arabs: Taif Accords Null and Void
The first note was followed by a personal letter from Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the summit’s host, strongly advising Assad not to expect the Arab rulers to endorse his accords with Lahoud. They would rather stay away, he writes.
According to our sources, the Saudis have only just begun their vendetta against Damascus.
Monday, March 7, Prince Abdullah and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt agreed over the phone to jettison a conciliatory plan put forward by Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa. He proposes a rider for UN Security Council resolutions on Lebanon that would set up an all-Arab panel to mediate between Syria, Lebanon and the United Nations. The Security Council would freeze all action against Damascus or Beirut until this panel finished its work and submitted recommendations.
This proposal would be tantamount to an all-Arab veto of any international action against Syria.
Abdulllah told Mubarak that he was fed up with Moussa’s stratagems and it was time to see him out. Mubarak took the prince’s point and promised that if the Arab League secretary, a former Egyptian foreign minister, refused to take his proposal back, he would forfeit his job.
In a last minute flash, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Cairo and Riyadh sources disclose that Riyadh persuaded Arab rulers to pull the last rug from under Assad’s feet. A second secret Note arrived in Damascus, Thursday, March 10, from the same Arab rulers as the first. It contained two stern statements:
1. The 1989 Taif Accord, the document which Syria claims mandates the presence of its army in Lebanon, is null and void. “You failed to uphold its provisions for 16 years.” Now it is no longer valid.
2. The reinstatement of Omar Karami as prime minister is an affront to the Arab world at large. No serious inquiry into the murder of Rafiq Hariri is possible when the man who headed the Lebanese government when it was perpetrated remains in office.