An unfit regime

Posted in Broader Middle East | 24-Oct-05 | Source: Ha'aretz

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen

The conclusions of the international commission of inquiry into the murder of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, do not perhaps amount to a full indictment, but they leave no room for doubt: Syria's involvement in Lebanon, in every area of the country's life, turned Lebanon into another Damascus neighborhood.

While the commission of inquiry will try to carry on its investigation in both Damascus and Lebanon, in order to obtain all possible evidence on which to base an indictment, another report is due to be issued this week.

This is the report by United Nations envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, which is supposed to outline the extent of Syria's compliance with Security Council Resolution 1559. That resolution, from September 2004, demands that Syria withdraw completely from Lebanon, disarm the Lebanese militias - particularly Hezbollah and the Palestinian organizations - and allow the Lebanese army to deploy along the border with Israel.

Syria is now on the spot and has only itself to blame. At a time when most Middle Eastern countries are going through a process of soul-searching, when many regimes are making an effort to display democratic change, Syria has not yet internalized this new spirit.

According to the investigative commission's description, it seems as if there are still powerful elements in the Syrian corridors of power, apparently including Assad himself, that think that Syria is entitled to do whatever it likes in Lebanon, to scorn its citizens' aspirations for reforms and to utterly disregard the new world order that has terrorism in its sights.

The international pressure currently being exerted on Damascus, and the intention of imposing economic and other sanctions on it, would have forced any rational country to reevaluate its policy and its basic presumptions concerning its status in the region. This is particularly true of Syria's policy on Lebanon, which continues to demand full independence. Lebanon, which has done more than any other party in the region, including the United States and the Arab League, to free itself from Syria's hold, also wishes to sever itself from the "joint track" doctrine that Syria dictated.

This is the doctrine that prevented Lebanon from conducting peace negotiations with Israel on its own. Lebanon's political independence is therefore an important Israeli interest, which, even if Israel does not succeed at this time in persuading Lebanon to advance toward peace negotiations with it, at least holds out hope that Syria would not stand in the way of the process.

It is possible that the conclusions of the two investigative commissions attest merely to another attempt to adapt Syria's policies to the ambitions of the United States, especially regarding Syrian cooperation in the war in Iraq.

That, however, is not sufficient to negate their basic assumption: A regime that employs terrorist means to implement its policy will have to brought to account and even punished.