Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lebanon, Syria & The UN Security Council

Of the myriad of issues involving the byantine politics of the Middle East, two of the most immediate are whether political assassinations are to be tolerated as an accepted tool of Middle Eastern politics and whether Syria will be allowed to continue its efforts to dominate Lebanon. Both hinge on how the 2005 assassination of Lebanese politician Rafiq Hariri is addressed by the UN Security Counsel. The matter is now before Counsel. The Counsel should immediately form a tribunal to hear evidence and pass judgment on the assassination of Rafiq Hariri.

Hariri was assasinated in 2005, with all evidence pointing to Syrian intelligence as the culprits. At the time, Hariri was challenging the continued occupation of Lebanon by Syria. As Amir Taheri explains:

[A U.N. investigator] established the motive for the murder as early as the autumn of 2005. He came out with evidence that showed the Syrian leadership, possibly at the highest level, had at one point decided that Hariri was the only Lebanese leader capable of challenging their old ambitions in Lebanon. At the start of 2005, none of the other players in the Lebanese political scene had any particular interest in wishing Hariri out of the way.

But Assad did not count on the ultimate backlash to the assassination of Hariri - a backlash that saw Syria ostensibly driven from Lebanon and a nascent democracy retake power. That did not end Syria's ambition to dominate Lebanon for economic and political reasons. And Assad clearly views preventing any tribunal from passing judgement on the Hariri murder as a mortal threat to that ambition, not to mention the problems such a judgemnt would pose for Syria on almost all levels.

Thus Syria, supported by Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, have done all they can to sidetrack such a tribunal. That has been problematic:
. . . In the general election that followed [Syria's withdraw], the pro-Hariri bloc and its allies won a majority in the parliament and formed a government dedicated to bringing the murderers to justice.

Unable to stop the investigation, Syria (backed by the Islamic Republic in Iran) tried to put Lebanese politics on a trajectory that would marginalize the Hariri case. The Syrians deployed Emile Lahoud - the president they had imposed on the Lebanese for a further three years - to paralyze the Siniora government.
Under Lebanon's Constitution, laws passed by the parliament and senior appointments made by the government must receive presidential assent to take effect. Prompted by the Syrians, Lahoud has been withholding his assent, effectively preventing the government from implementing the program for which it was elected.
Lahoud continues to this day to thwart the democratically elected majority who desire a tribunal. But Syria's meddling has gone far beyond just Lahoud.

There have been several additional murders of anti-Syrian journalists and politicians in the interim. But through it all, Lebanon's nascent democracy has not waivered.

It seems likely that the disastrous war started by Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, was motivated in part by a desire to prevent the Hariri tribunal from being formed. After the Hezbollah-Israel War, Hezbollah tried to bootstrap their claimed "victory" into additional political power. They demanded the Lebanese government grant them a veto power over legislation, clearly aimed at quashing the formation of a Hariri tribunal. When that did not work, they withdrew their ministers from the government and took to the streets, attempting to further intimidate the government with the threat of riots and possibly a renewal of the disastrous civil war that consumed Lebanon for years.

None of this has deterred Lebanon's majority in the government, but with Syrian control of the presidency, there has been deadlock. Lebanon's Prime Minister has written to Ban Ki Moon at the UN, requesting that the Security Council, without formal request of Lebanon, create a formal tribunal to pass judgment on the murder of Hariri. In response, Syria has formulated violence among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The Palestinians have long been problematic for Lebanon, and are now becoming a serious problem with the growth of al Qaeda linked organizations inside Palestinian holding areas. A Syrian backed Palestinian group has chosen the day Lebanon sent its letters to the UN to begin an unprovoked attack on Lebanese army positions near the Syrian border.

The longer the Security Council refrains from moving on the Lebanese government's request for a tribunal, the greater will be the blood spilled among innocents in Lebanon. A complete failure to act will abandon Lebanon to Syrian control and only ensconce political assassination as a reasonable tool of Middle East foreign policy. Syria must be brought to heel and their foreign policy of assassination and intimidation subject to the bright light of international scrutiny and judgment. The time for the U.N. Security Council to act is now.

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