With parliamentary elections (June 7th 2009) and the International Tribunal’s operational starting date (March 1st 2009) fast approaching, Lebanon is entering a period of increased risk. For Syria, the stakes are too high to allow the continuation of Lebanon’s pro-sovereignty drive, especially with the apparent addition of that country’s recently-elected President to the ranks of those working towards a strong, viable and sovereign state. As Syria begins to feel the pressure of an operational Tribunal (witnesses and all), along with a newly reinvigorated Arab Peace Initiative under the stewardship of an ambitious US-Middle East policy, so too will it bring pressure (of the explosive kind) to bear on those Lebanese it perceives as a hindrance to its dominance of the only piece of real-estate it ever really cared about, i.e. its tiny neighbor to the west.
Those following developments in Lebanon and the broader region should, by now, be no strangers to the tactics employed by the Syrian regime in order to coerce its way out of having to abide by the International Tribunal. For the most part, these tactics consist of a two-pronged approach: On the one hand, the costs to the broader international community and those Lebanese who support the International Tribunal are dramatically increased through a series of destabilizing measures rendering the country unsuitable for business, life and any further international interest.
On the other hand, the regime works to ensure that its allies and proxies in Lebanon are strategically placed throughout the executive, legislative, and judicial bodies of the state [and its security apparatus], thereby preventing the execution of any decision emanating from that international court – a move, should it ever come to fruition [through this June’s elections], which would place us in direct confrontation with the broader international community and render unto the country and its citizens a global “pariah status”.
The two “prongs” have not been mutually exclusive, converging through such actions as the targeting and assassination of MPs and Ministers (cutting away at the pro-sovereignty two-thirds majority in Cabinet and simple majority in Parliament), the launching of the January 23rd 2007 riots and their culmination in the attacks started on May 7th 2008.
This week, reports emerged of approximately 150 militants being transferred across the Syrian border to bases controlled by proxies of the Syrian regime’s intelligence apparatus. The reports are especially worrying given the pattern such developments have taken in the past. Go back to May 2007 when the International Tribunal was activated and a string of terrorist attacks launched – including the Fatah al Islam insurgency in Nahr el Bared. Precede that with this report from late 2006, bringing news of 200 fighters being smuggled in from Syria. And finally, juxtapose it with the assassination of Walid Eido, a former judge and Future Movement MP thought to have been involved in the Lebanese government’s work on the drafting of the International Tribunal’s charter and mandate.