While Syria steadily makes strides toward breaking free from international isolation, and while its leaders purport to espouse the spirit of peaceful reconciliation, Damascus is teaching the world an object lesson in how it reaches understandings and what it considers accommodation.
But is the world listening? There was a marked absence of shock, to say nothing of censure, when Lebanese Druse leader Walid Jumblatt apologized last week to Syrian President Bashar Assad for having dared accuse him of assassinating former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005. Jumblatt had previously “forgiven” Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, for assassinating his own father, Kamal Jumblatt, in 1977.
In the wake of Hariri’s murder, the Bush administration withdrew its ambassador from Damascus. Recently, the Obama administration pointedly opted to reinstate an American ambassador in the Syrian capital, with no quid-for-quo. Indeed, rather than cleaning up its act, Damascus thumbed its nose at the new US efforts at engagement when Assad two weeks ago held a much-hyped powwow with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Hizbullah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah. This, too, failed to elicit even a murmur of protest, much less a symbolic slap on the wrist.
Seasoned political player Jumblatt has evidently internalized that Assad’s star is in the ascendent, his misbehavior notwithstanding. The Druse leader, after all, is an experienced hand at surviving amid the convoluted contortions of Lebanese affairs. With Washington pulling the rug from under him, Jumblatt plainly realized that the key to staying alive was to bow down wretchedly to Syrian dominance.
To earn his ticket of admission to the reinvigorated and self-assured Damascus, Jumblatt, until recently a mainstay of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian coalition, was ordered – significantly via Nasrallah’s “mediation” – to apologize to Assad. No less.
Jumblatt did so obsequiously after Hizbullah announced his “courageous review of his past stance.”
Jumblatt had for years urged revenge against Syria and branded Assad a “snake” and a “tyrant.” Under Nasrallah’s supervision, Jumblatt has now atoned for “saying, at a moment of anger, what is improper and illogical against President Bashar Assad. It was a moment of ultimate internal tension and division in Lebanon.”
Like a supplicant before an all-powerful despot, Jumblatt promised to both “forgive and forget” and implored that “a new page be turned.”
THE DRUSE leader is not the only one to have come cap in hand to Assad recently, pleading for “a new page.”
Sa’ad Hariri – Lebanon’s prime minister and Jumblatt’s principal partner in the anti-Syrian front that was established with much fanfare on March 14, 2005 – did exactly the same. He, too, extolled the virtues of the “new page,” went to Damascus, embraced the very honchos he had accused of murdering his father, Rafik, and is reportedly soon bound for Teheran as well.
That’s how Syria defines compromise – unquestionable subjugation of any hint of dissent. After Syria’s opponents have been manifestly tamed and humiliated, they may be tolerated and enjoy the Godfather’s protection. Before Jumblatt saw the light, he repeatedly expressed fear of assassination. His political volte-face may have prolonged his life.
But the capitulation of Hariri and Jumblatt – both sons of leaders eliminated gangland-style to the Assads’ satisfaction – underscores more than personal vicissitudes. It marks the effective end of the March 14 camp and with it the demise of the tattered remains of Lebanese independence.
Although, pro forma, Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2005, its stranglehold on its small neighbor has only tightened of late, with Hizbullah actively abetting Syrian hegemony. Lebanon is today sovereign in name only. In effect, it is again nothing less than Damascus’s hand puppet. And as the international community clamors hoarsely for the establishment of a brand new state, Palestine, it acquiesces with extraordinary equanimity to the destruction of another, established Arab state’s self-determination.
This is something to be pondered carefully by all those at home and
abroad who urge Israel to make concessions to Damascus. Many in the
security establishment argue fiercely that it is in Israel’s vital
interest to seek an accord with Syria, in large part to try to peel
Damascus away from Teheran, and there is indeed such an interest, if it
is feasible. But the grim evidence is that not only has the Assad regime
not reformed, but its attachment to the Axis of Evil is being patently
Meanwhile, the chastened Jumblatt has now remembered who to blame for
Lebanon’s ills – Israel. Not coincidentally, Hariri is chanting the
identical mantra. “All of Lebanon’s woes,” he intoned last week, “are
Assad must be delighted.