Monday, February 21, 2005

Syria, Iran and al-Hariri (updated) 

'Bush issues forceful words to Iran, Syria'

'Thousands rally in Beirut against Syria one week after Hariri murder'

'Syria Indicates It May Withraw Some Troops From Lebanon'

Read between the lines.

UPDATE: More, this time from Al-Jaz:
"In response to the criminal and terrorist policy of the Lebanese and Syrian authorities, the Lebanese opposition declares the democratic and peaceful intifada [uprising] for independence," said leading opposition figure Samir Frangia after a meeting of leading Lebanese opposition figures.

Now there's an intifada I could get behind.

It will be very interesting to see how long Syria sustains its occupation in the face of Arab outcry. If the world keeps its eyes on Lebanon, Hama rules will not apply.

UPDATE: (2:55 pm EST)

George Friedman just published an analysis of the diplomacy involving the Iraqi Sunnis, the Saudis, leading Sunni clerics, Iran, Syria, Achmed Chalabi, and pretty much everybody else with an oar in the Euphrates that is both illuminating and arcane ($). Toward the end, this interesting speculation fairly leaps from the screen:
...It is no surprise, therefore, that the Iranians should have reached out to the Syrians over the past few weeks, trying to forge a strategic alliance.

The Syrians' primary interest is retaining their position of power in Lebanon, just as the primary interest of the Iranians is in building up their position in Iraq. The Americans are systematically whittling away at both of these interests. Tehran has asked for a united front with Syria. Damascus views Iran with suspicion. First, Syrian leaders are not sure what Iran can do for them; second, they are not sure Iran won't negotiate a deal with the Americans, leaving the Syrians wide open. Our guess is that the regime in Syria responded to the Iranians with the demand for a down payment -- some indicator that the Iranians were prepared to cross the Rubicon.

The price we believe they asked was the life of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Hezbollah is an Iranian-founded and -controlled Shiite group that is permitted to operate by Syria. The Syrians wanted al-Hariri out of the way and, if our conjecture is accurate, wanted Tehran to do this via Hezbollah. The Iranians would have accommodated the Syrians -- first, because they needed some international support; and second, because they wanted to throw Hezbollah into the pot. Hezbollah invented suicide bombings and, even more than al Qaeda, it is a global organization. It has grown fat and somewhat complacent in the past decade -- cutting deals in booming Lebanon and elsewhere in a range of businesses -- but the group still knows its craft. And in the al-Hariri affair, Tehran signaled the United States that it has more cards to play than just nuclear weapons.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether al-Hariri's murder was in fact in Syria's best interest -- today's news suggests that it was not. However, Syria has a long tradition of idiotically overplaying its hand in foreign affairs and ruthlessly smashing opposition in domestic matters. These tendancies may well have combined into an intemperate signal from Damascus that it would be thrilled if Hezbollah did away with al-Hariri. And Friedman is certainly right that it is in Iran's interests to demonstrate the reach and power of its own terrorist network, regardless of the impact on Syria's hold on Lebanon, because it reminds the United States that Iran can project power whether or not it has nuclear weapons.


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