Cut and Run

Henry C.K. Liu

Part I: Fleeing Self Destruction is Common Sense

Part II: Looking to Syria and Iran for Help

Needing scapegoats to distract from bankrupt US policies, occupation officials in Iraq continued to try to link Iran and Syria with al-Qaeda as evil allies in a coordinated attempt to tear Iraq apart and prevent the US from establishing a stable democracy there, even long after declassified official US intelligence had dismissed such connection between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni al-Qaeda or between secular Syria and Islamist fundamentalist terrorists.

A few days before the mid-term elections on November 7, 2006, US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and 4-star General George W. Casey Jr., Commander of US Forces in Iraq who two years earlier had replaced Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez amid an overhaul of the command structure and disturbing questions about Sanchez’s oversight of the military’s treatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, called a joint news conference in Baghdad to counter rising criticism back home of US strategy in Iraq.  They accused Iran and Syria, Iraq’s two major immediate neighbors, of supporting armed insurgent groups against US occupation and the US-installed new Iraqi government, as well as supplying competing sectarian militias responsible for much of the bloodshed.

, which has strong faith-based ties to Iraq’s 60% majority Shi’ite population, and Syria, largely Sunni Muslim but solidly secular, both denied supporting sectarian insurgents in Iraq. However, neither of the neighboring governments finds it necessary to apologize for their separate sympathy for anti-US-occupation insurgency. Khalilzad said the US had asked friendly Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan to persuade Sunni insurgent groups to end the violence and join the stalled political process in Iraq.

Khalilzad and Casey previously appeared together five months earlier at a news conference in Baghdad on June 8 to highlight occupation “success”, following the US air-strike killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom they falsely identified as the Sunni leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Zarqawi’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda had long been rejected by the CIA, concluding that he was a rival to Osama bin Laden and had acted independently. The CIA was in a position to know, for it had trained both Osama bin Laden and Zarqawi during the Cold War. Every anti-terrorism expert knows that al-Qaeda does not have a global monopoly on terrorism.

Rumsfeld himself conceded that Zarqawi’s ties to al-Qaeda might have been “ambiguous”, and that Zarqawi might have been more a rival than a deputy of Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi “may very well not have sworn allegiance [to Osama bin Laden],” Rumsfeld admitted.  Newsweek had reported four months earlier, on June 23, 2004, that Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing: “Someone could legitimately say he’s not al-Qaeda.”

Still, General Casey warned that even with the death of its leader, the Zarqawi group had only been temporarily weakened but remained lethal, admitting that the insurgency cannot be eliminated by merely killing its leaders. A document captured from Zarqawi’s safe house revealed that the Sunni group was trying to provoke a US invasion of Shi’ite Iran in order to broaden the insurgency in the region and to drain US forces away from Iraq into a larger regional arena. On this Machiavellian objective, Zarqawi and the neo-cons in Washington were unwittingly working for opposite purposes toward a common goal of instigating US state terror against Iran.

Khalilzad depicted the utopian US plan to build a united, democratic Iraq as “the defining challenge of our era” and claimed it would shape the future of the Middle East and global security. Yet what makes the US plan for Iraq utopian is the assumption that democracy can be built through foreign military occupation. The reality in Iraq shows that the goal of “a united, democratic Iraq” will be more elusive with continuing US occupation with unwanted and unhelpful meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Force-fed Democracy

Henry Kissinger, whose advice is sought by some in the Bush Administration, told the press that “the evolution of democracy … usually has to go through a phase in which a nation [is] born. And by attempting to skip that process, our valid goals were distorted into what we are now seeing.” Democracy to politics is like vitamins to health; excessive doses in a hurry can result in negative results. Democracy delivered through militarism is like forced feeding vitamin overdoses.

Kissinger said he would have preferred a post-invasion policy that installed a strong Iraqi leader from the military or some other institution and deferred the development of democracy until later. It then begs the question of why invading Iraq to topple Saddam in the first place.

As for freedom, President Bush repeats at every opportunity his declared reason for hunting down terrorists on Islamic soil: “They hate us for our freedom.” Actually, what Islamic terrorists hate is not US freedom as such but unrestricted US freedom to act as it pleases in Islamic lands.

The Bush Administration has adopted a strategy of building democracy by military means. Some administration officials have privately acknowledged that the goal of building a democratic Iraqi government supported by Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds has become increasingly unrealistic in the face of unremitting sectarian violence. Kissinger is known to have advocated the devolution of Iraq into a “confederate state in which Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions would govern themselves” with substantial autonomy by convening an international “contact group” including Iran, Syria and Turkey to try to create a stable balance among Iraq's factions. Senator Joseph Biden, Democratic incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has adopted Kissinger’s proposal of dividing Iraq into three autonomous sectors along ethnic and religious lines.

Kissinger proposes a process to “reflect some balance of forces and some balance of interests.”  Instead of holding elections and trying to build democratic institutions from the ground up, Kissinger proposes that the US should focus on more limited goals: preventing the emergence of a “fundamentalist jihadist regime” in Baghdad and enlisting other countries to help stabilize Iraq. That of course was the role Iraq under Saddam and his Iraqi Ba’ath Party had played, as an effective secular force in curbing fundamentalist jihadism.

Until the Republican defeat in mid-term elections in November, the Bush Administration had firmly dismissed as a retreat from “moral clarity” the idea of talking to Iran or Syria to offer them formal roles in stabilizing Iraq. The US had offered to talk with their governments only about US complaints of Iran supporting Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Syria aiding Sunni insurgents. Former Secretary of State James A Baker, co-head of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission to recommend new options for US policy on Iraq, has also said he favors bringing Iran and Syria into diplomatic dialogue. Kissinger has long been skeptical about making democratization the primary goal of US foreign policy. Enlarging democracy overseas can only be realistically achieved on a measured timetable. The direction can be set as a long-term policy goal, but the implementation requires longer historical periods than the tenure of one US presidency.

It is necessary to remember that the confederation of Iraq is not a goal shared by pan-Arab activists who see it as a neo-imperialist attempt to split the Arabic nation from its current 22 parts into another 22 more parts. The goal is also not shared by Syria, Iran or Turkey, neighboring states which would see it as an unwelcome precedent for their own multi-ethnic/sectarian problems.

War Presages End of Age of Superpower

The political culture of another country is not subject to easy hegemonic manipulation by even a superpower. While unchallenged as the sole military superpower since the end of the Cold War, the US has actually been a miser in foreign economic aid which is the stuff that wins the hearts and minds of people in poor countries. Neo-liberal economic ideology promoted by the US since the end of the Cold War prefers trade to aid in its globalization push to maximize return on investments. This approach becomes counterproductive even for the US economy as the US slides into the role of the world’s biggest debtor nation. Under financial globalization, capital flows to higher-return investments located in emerging economies overseas that export, while debt flows to the importing economies that over-consume, such as the US.

At the UN General Assembly in 1970, t
he rich nations of the world agreed to spend 0.7% of GNI (Gross National Income) on ODA (Official Development Assistance). The US consistently has provided an average of only 0.22% of GNI to ODA. Further, US aid is primarily designed to serve its own short-term geopolitical and economic interests. As many analysts have pointed out, the US, because of ideological blind spots against foreign aid, has not been applying the enormous “soft power” at its disposal for its own benefit and the benefit of the whole world. A superpower that fails to align its interests with those of the rest of the world will not stay a superpower for long.

For the Arabs, aside from oil wealth which at any rate has not been shared equitable among the Arabic people, the Arabic oil states and other rich nations in the West have not offered much help to enable them to follow a path of independent economic self-development.  Israel, which has the unique capacity to play the crucial role of an engine of growth for the Middle East and the Arabic world, instead has become an on-the-ground front-line agent for Western neo-imperialism. Until the US, Israel and Western Europe adopt new geopolitical and global economic policies that give the Arabs a fair deal out of a history of exploitation and a legacy of poverty, Arab-Israel conflict cannot transform into win-win amity and anti-US Islamic terrorism will not subside.  The Baker Commission should grasp the opportunity of the Iraqi crisis to review the larger picture of US Mid-East policy.

The Situation in

As for secular Syria, the US had fantasized that Bashar al-Asad’s ascension to power on July 7, 2000 would portend a shift from pan-Arab nationalism toward pro-US realpolitik in the Middle East. To its disappointment, Bashar al-Asad has adopted a policy more militantly pan-Arab nationalist than that of his late father, Hafiz al-Asad (1930-2000), particularly in relation to the Palestinian issue and the larger question of Arab-Israel conflict, now exacerbated by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The al-Assad clan belongs to the minority Alawis, heirs to a distinctive religious tradition which is at the root of their dilemma in modern Syria. When the Sunni Ottoman Empire took control of Syria in 1516, over 90,000 Alawis were killed and the survivors were treated as outcasts by their Sunni brothers and sisters.  Under French anti-Ottoman encouragement,  Zaki al-Arsuzi (1899-1968), a young Alawi leader from Antioch in Iskandarun and influential theoretician of pan-Arab nationalism, emerged with Michel Aflaq (1910-1989), an Eastern Orthodox Christian, as co-founders of the secular Ba’ath Party to resisit Ottoman theorcrtic rule.  When the Ottoman Empire finally dissolved in 1922, France claimed Syria as war booty. French imperialist divide-and-rule policy then encouraged Alawi separatism, setting Alawis against the Sunni nationalists who agitated for Syrian independence from France and Arab unity. From 1922 to 1936, the Alawis even had a separate state of their own under French mandate. But while the Alawis held power within their state, they remained socio-economically inferior to Sunnis in society.

The Alawi sect shared with the Shi’as reverence for Imam Ali, regarded as in higher esteem than any other successor to the prophet Muhammad. Soon after the Alawis gained state power in Syria in November 1970, Imam Mousa Sadr, a Shi’a leader in Beirut, ruled that Alawis were part of Shi’a Islam, notwithstanding Alawi commitment to secular Ba’athism and pan-Arbism.

Alawi domination of Syrian politics has seeded deep resentment among Syria’s Sunni Muslims, who constitute up to 80% of the population, mostly in cities of Syria’s heartland. Notwithstanding having grown wealthy and powerful from a privileged position under Sunni Ottoman rule in which nationalism was viewed as European disease, along with the concept of a secular state, Sunnis had nevertheless formed the core of Syria’s modern struggle for national independence. The Sunnis, helped by Syrian Christian intellectuals influenced by European liberalism, developed the theoretical foundation of Arab nationalism. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, Sunni Ba’athists resisted French imperialism; and they stepped into positions of authority with the departure of the French. Syria was a Sunni political patrimony, and to many Sunnis, the ensuing rise of the Alawis to political power amounted to illegitimate appropriation. Sunni Ba’athists, as Arabists, had put national solidarity above religious allegiance and accepted the Alawis as fraternal Arabs.

But spirituality runs deeper than politics in Arabic culture; thus many Sunnis still identify their secular nationalist aspirations with Islam, and view Syrian independence as a path to self rule for their own Sunni community. Alawi ascendance left many Sunnis disillusioned, feeling betrayed by the secular ideology of pan-Arabism for which they themselves had acted as ideological mid-wives.

The secular, socialist Ba’ath Party came to power in Syria on March 8, 1963 with the help of Nasserite pan-Arabists.
Since then, members of the Alawi clan have been prominent in Syrian government and armed forces. In 1970, Hafez al-Assad, then an Air-Force colonel, took power and launched a “corrective revolution” to purge the ultra-nationalists in the Syrian Ba'ath Party to curb adventurism in Syrian foreign policy. Al-Assad became president of Syria the following year.  The Ba’ath Party has since retained uninterrupted control of parliament and is constitutionally the “leading party” of the Syrian state. Secularism is a key basis for Alawi rule over Sunni Syria.

The Sunni Ba’athists ruled Iraq briefly in 1963, and again from July 1968 until the US invasion in March 2003. There were complex
political and ideological differences between fellow secular Ba'athist regimes in Alawi Syria and Sunni Iraq, as well as personal rivalry between the leaders. Syria, led by Alawis, despite its predominant Sunni population, supported Shi’ite Iran against Sunni Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War, for secular geopolitical reasons.

US occupation authority banned the pan-Arab, socialist Iraqi Ba’ath Party in June 2003 as part of its simplistic regime change policy. US post-war plans for Iraq were framed around the old 19th century divide-and-rule stratgey of Franco-British imperilaism. Traditonal Islamic sectarianism and Kurd/Arab ethnic hostility made such divide-and-rule stategy a natural platform on which to partition the country into three autonomous sections of Sunni, Shi’a and Kurd under a US-controlled central government in charge of foreign policy, the military and the oil sector.  This strategy requires the “de-Ba’athification” of Iraqi politics the way “de-Nazification” had been necessary in post-war Germany because the Ba’athists were pan-Arab nationalists. Managed civil stife in Iraq was meant by US occupation to be a desirable condition to implement the divide-and-rule strategy to justify extended foreign occupation and perpetual foreign remote control, until it got out of hand and spiralled down the bloody path of all-out civil war that may further degenerate into regional conflicts

and Pan-Arabism

Despite its centrist policies, Syria steadfastly aspires to be the leading proponent of militant pan-Arab nationalism.  With only three years in office, the young Bashar was abruptly confronted by the challenge of the Iraqi War in 2003. Syria under Bashar chose to lead the Arab world in opposing the war not only with rhetoric, but by also allowing its border with Iraq to be a backdoor for the flow of arms and Arab and other Islamic volunteer fighters into Iraq. This caused Washington to adopt a menacing stance towards Damascus. While the Syrian position on the Iraq War raised tensions with the US, the negligible effect it had on US overwhelming war efforts kept relation between the two countries from rupturing. The US State Department did not want to close the diplomatic door on Syria entirely, knowing that Syrian cooperation would be needed at some point eventually in maintaining peace in Iraq, Lebanon and the entire region, as well as in disentangling the intractable Arab-Israel conflict and keeping progress on the erratic peace process. The US also has an interest in preventing the resurgence of radical Ba’athist populist politics and extremist pan-Arabism in Syria.

Syrian pan-Arabic policy on the Iraq War and the subsequent quagmire facing US occupation have elevated Bashar’s stature in public opinion both within Syrian and throughout the Arab world while creating bitter personal and political resentment towards him among leaders of the moderate Arab states such as the Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan.

The young Bashar has positioned himself closer to Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah, another young leader in the Arab world, than to other young new moderate leaders such as King Abdallah II of Jordan, King Muhammad VI of Morroco or Sheikh Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifah of Bahrain. In the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Syria under Bashar’s late father Hafiz al-Asad joined some of these other moderate Arab states in the US-led multinational coalition against Iraq. In 1998, Syria began a gradual rapprochement with Iraq and renewed economic ties.

Syria’s pan-Arab role intensified as the Arab-Israel peace process collapsed with the second Palestinian intifada against Israel in September 2000, followed by the Hezbollah-Israeli clash of July-September 2006 during which Israel employed a strategy of air-strikes that killed over 1,500 Lebanese civilians, many women and children, severely damaged Lebanese infrastructure and displaced over 900,000 Lebanese from their homes, with the objective of creating an immediate rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters by exacting a heavy price from the Lebanese elite, particularly among the Christians. Instead, the ill-fated month-long campaign, which originally was to be completed within two weeks, divided domestic politics inside Israel and damaged international support for it.

The Rise of the Hezbollah

The Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shi’a militia that follows a distinct version of Islamic Shi’a ideology developed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.  Hezbollah is dedicated to ending the Israeli occupation of South Lebanese through armed struggle. Hezbollah officially makes a distinction between Zionist ideology and Judaism.

The nature of the longstanding relationship between secular Alawi Damascus and the radical Shi’a militia in Lebanon has been shifted by the Israel/Hezbollah conflict, with long-established Syrian leverage diminished. For the three decades when Syrian troops were deployed in Lebanon, Damascus kept firm control over the flow of arms to the Hezbollah. Now Syria is no longer in control of this vital leverage as Syria find is increasingly difficult to defy Arab popular support for the heroic struggle by Hezbollah against mighty Israel.

A new strategic dynamic has been created by the erosion of the Israeli image of invincibility through a visible failure of customary Israeli overwhelming military superiority to prevail over Arab resistance. The basis of the new equation is Hezbollah’s unimpeded ability to continue to land rockets deep inside Israel despite four weeks of punishing assaults from the full force of the Israeli military. The conflict showed that Israeli military operations were no longer immune to Israeli casualties, both civilian and military. Yet even when Israel was will to pay the high cost of such military operations, it failed to achieve its political objectives. Israel faced in Lebanon what the US is facing in Iraq, an erosion of its image of military invincibility, a serious loss in a conflict where political legitimacy has been based on the ability to prevail militarily on the ground.

Indeed, with each passing day all through the conflict, the sight of a small Arab militia in a politically fragmented country hitting the powerful state of Israel with rockets won for Hezbollah awed respectability and popular support across the entire Arab world and beyond. That fact made further prolongation of the conflict, which Israel unwisely labeled as “the struggle a death match”, burnish a de-facto confirmation of defeat for Israel in its declared war aim of decisively disarming the Hezbollah.

Given icy US attitude towards Damascus, expecting Syrian cooperation as a geopolitical free lunch for the US dilemma in Israel/Hezbollah conflict is unrealistic on Washington’s part. Syria is not likely to restrain Hezbollah which at any rate does not need any short-term help from Syria as it remains quite well supplied for a short war.  It is naïve of the US to expect Syria to neutralize for no strategic gain its strongest card not only in Lebanon but in dealing with Israel.

Ironically, by forcing Syria to withdraw it troops from Lebanon in 2005, the US and its allies diluted the direct leverage Syria might have had over Hezbollah a year later in 2006. The consensus of most observers is that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah and most of the world were all surprised by Israeli overreaction to the Hezbollah seizure of two Israeli soldiers, an incident well within the unspoken rules of limited engagements with which Israel had ample experience in the past. It was an incidence solvable with a low-key exchange of prisoners. But US militaristic policy on Iraq seemed to have encouraged Israel under an inexperienced and ultra-radical caretaker leadership, with its seasoned leader Ariel Sharon lying in a coma in the hospital, to try to use the captive soldiers incident as a pretext to destroy Hezbollah with overwhelming force once and for all.

The ill-considered Israeli strategy on Lebanon failed in parallel to the ill-conceived US strategy on Iraq, doing serious and perhaps long-lasting damage to both governments in domestic politics and foreign policy.  In the US, the neo-con-dominated regime lost control of Congress to the anti-war Democrats and has to stage a full retreat from its “moral clarity” unilateral approach to foreign policy to a pragmatic multilateral approach. In Israel, the fiasco in Leb may presage the rehabilitation of the peace faction which had been effectively marginalized in Israeli politics for decades. The experience in Iraq and Lebanon show that military superiority no longer translates automatically into political advantage in a new age of asymmetrical warfare and that political solutions are now the only path to peace in a complex world of tangled forces and overlapping interests.

has long held that problems in the Middle East could be solved only through a comprehensive plan to end the Arab-Israeli dispute. Syrian diplomats stress the indispensable role of Syria, pointing out as proof the omission of Syria, Hezbollah and Iran from the diplomatic talks on the Lebanon crisis in Rome rendered those discussions pointless.

The US maintains that Syria can and should restrain Hezbollah, hoping that Washington’s moderate Sunni Arab allies would separate Shi’ite but secular Damascus from its de-facto alliance with fundamentalist Shi’ite Iran and its militant Shiite offspring in the region. Close ties with Iran have made Syria more influential in the region in the context of new developments such as the election of Hamas to control the Palestinian Authority parliament, and the deteriorating chaos in US-occupied Iraq. But the Iranian link, fueled mostly by a year-long US-led economic pressure on and international isolation of Syria, is not well supported in Damascus and lacks sustaining power as soon as US hostility toward Damascus eases.

Investments in Syria from Arab oil states have basically dried up under US pressure. Street demonstrations in Damascus vilify moderate Arab leaders, such as King Abdallah II of Jordan and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who have publicly criticized Hezbollah, but who are from non-oil producing states. Ultimately, Syria aims to exploit the crisis to create an opportunity to reassert itself as a key player that needs to be consulted, particularly when it comes to Lebanese, Iraqi and Palestinian affairs.

The ruling Ba’athist Party in Syria aims to consolidate its rule by forging alliances that will bring prosperity and development in the long range. The recovery of the Golan Heights, taken by Israel in the 1967 war, is only an immediate first-step objective.

and Lebanon

The petty Arab states are like the petty Germanic states before German unification, willingly allowing their competing parochial self-interests to be exploited by the Holy Roman Emperor to keep German unification at bay. Until pan-Arabism unites the Arabic people, Arabs will be of little consequence in determining their own destiny.  This is why Israel, a nation of 4 million with no oil revenue, whose people returned to their undeveloped ancient homeland only six decades ago, can outmatch for six decades the Arab nation of 60 million sitting on a quarter of the world’s oil supply, by making separate peace with disunited and competing separate Arab states. Nowhere is this anomaly more clearly visible than the relationship between Syria and Lebanon.

In return for Christian promise not to seek French protection and to accept Lebanon as an Arabic state, the Lebanese Muslims agreed to renounce aspirations for union with Syria and to recognize the independence and legitimacy of the Lebanese state in its 1922 boundaries. This agreement took the form of the National Pact of 1943 which allowed Shi’ites, Sunis and Maronite Christians to form an independent state in Lebanon as an “Arab” affiliated country. The Pact also reinforced the sectarian system of government begun under the 2-decade-long French Mandate by formalizing the confessional distribution of high-level posts in the government based on the six-to-five ratio of the 1932 census favoring minority Christians over majority Muslims.

The Taif Agreement signed on October 22, 1989 in Taif, Saudi Arabia restructured the 45-year-old National Pact by transferring equal power to the Arabs from the controlling Maronite Christians which had been given a privileged status in Lebanon under French colonial rule. The Agreement stipulated domestic political compromise, the ending of the Lebanese Civil War, the establishment of special relations between Lebanon and Syria, and a framework for the beginning of complete Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Taif stipulates that the Prime Minister answers to the legislature, as in a conventional parliamentary system, instead of the Sunni Muslim Prime Minister being appointed by and responsible to the Maronite President before Taif.  At the time of the Taif negotiations, Maronite President Amine Gemayel appointed Maronite General Michel Aoun as prime minister, putting the government in total control of the Christians, in violation of the National Pact.

Piere Gemayel, founder of the Fascist Kataeb (Phalangist) Party, advocated a Lebanon separate from the other Arab states and linked geopolitically to France and the West. He opposed the accommodation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. His son, Amine Gemayel, was elected to the presidency by Parliament on September 21, 1982 to succeed his brother Bachir Gemayel who had been elected the previous month but was assassinated before taking office. Amine’s son, Piere Gemayel Jr, was elected to Parliament in 2000, and established his reputation as an opposition politician to a pro-Syrian government. Gemayel Jr. was assassinated by unidentified assailants in Jdeideh, a Beirut suburb, on November 21, 2006. Amine Gemayel accused Syria of being responsible for the death of his son.  Political assassinations have not been rare events in the Gemayel family or in Lebanon history.

The Taif Agreement identified the abolition of political sectarianism as a Lebanon national priority but without a timeframe. The Chamber of Deputies was enlarged to 128 members, shared equally between Christians and Muslims, rather than keeping to the 6-to-5 ration in favor of Christians as stipulated in the National Pact or by universal suffrage that would have provided a Muslim majority. A cabinet was established similarly divided equally between Christians and Muslims who were divided among Shi’as, Shi’ites and other sects.

Lebanon President Emile Lahoud, a Maronite Christian, out-going commander-in-chief of the Lebanon armed forces, ran for the presidency in 1998, after having the constitution amended to allow a military leader to run for office within three years of holding that post. Under the Lebanese constitution, the Presidential term is limited to one six-year term. However, under pressure from Alawi-ruled Syria which was uncomfortable with the prospect of a Sunni-dominated Lebanon, the Lebanese parliament voted in 2004 to amend the constitution to extend Lahoud’s term for an additional three years to 2007, as his predecessor, Elias Hrawi did. Lebanese opposition forces and Western critics claimed that the extension was illegal because the constitution was amended under foreign duress.

Prime Minister Hariri, a Sunni who had enjoyed guarded Syrian support, clashed with Damascus over the extension of Lahoud’s term and resigned in protest. He was later killed by a truck bomb on February 14, 2005. Lebanese opposition blamed Syria for the assassination while Syria denied responsibility with the argument that it gained no political advantage from Hariri’s death.

The tortuous history of Lebanon reveals that no political allegiance is sacred in this complex arena of power struggle in which players have been conditioned by century-long realities resulting from a Western divide-and rule political culture.  Lebanese politicians have long since learned that survival is a requisite prerogative in the protracted struggle for national liberation carried out through fleeting alliances of expediency. Survival allows the survivor a chance to rise above temporary setbacks to fight another day toward final victory. Arab politicians have long learned that honor does not exist in the lexicon of Western manuals of politics, particularly when it comes to agreements made to Arabs, and that deals of expediencies are made to be broken by new expediencies.

Lebanon politicians and sectarian militia leaders, not withstanding their impassioned grandstanding of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle early in Lebanon’s 1976-1990 civil war, ended up cutting embarrassingly awkward deals with invading Israeli forces in 1982 just to ensure their own political survival and to avoid heroic yet tragic fates at any cost. Unlike Jews, Arabs do not entertain a Masada complex with relish.

’s largest wartime Christian militia had fought Syrian forces for over a decade, only to watch cynically from the sidelines as Syrian troops crushed the Lebanese army and marched into the capital in 1990. Pro-Syrian ministers who vowed a decade ago to place their bodies before Syrian tanks to prevent a withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, remained conspicuously silent when Syrian President Bashar Assad, facing mounting domestic and international pressure led by the US and France, pulled them out of Lebanon on April 25, 2005.

Lebanon Prime Minister Omar Karami’s unexpected resignation on Feb. 28, 2005, the latest in a series of defections by Syrian-backed politicians since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri two weeks earlier, was a political setback for Syria, even though the range of suspected assassins extended beyond Syria to conceivably include Iran and even Israel.  Hariri, a self-made Sunni billionaire, could have mold a coalition of Christian Phalangists, Druze warlords, and Muslim militias, into a pro-Syria functioning state which would not be an exactly good neighbor to Israel or Iran. Thus both Israel and Iran benefited from Hariri’s assassination, a fact which underscored a painful reality for Syria. The assassination precipitated the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon, a development that signaled a major setback of Syrian effort on pan-Arabism, which is music to both Israel and Iran.

Omar Abdul Hamid Karami
, scion of one of Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni Muslim families, abandoned Syria to save his own political career when Syrian troops pull out. He was prime minister from December 1990, when Selim al-Hoss gave up power, until May 1992, when he resigned after massive protests when the Lebanese currency collapsed. Ten days after his resignation, Karami was reappointed prime minister and called on the opposition to participate in government until the elections slated for April 2005. Najib Mikati, a Sunni telecommunication tycoon with close ties to Syria, was appointed on April 15, 2005 to succeed Karami who again resigned on April 13, after failing to form a government. Ten days later, Syrian troop withdrew from Lebanon.

The only Lebanese cabinet member who remained steadfastly loyal to Syria was Labor Minister Assem Qanso, who heads the pan-Arabic Lebanese Ba’ath Party.

Notwithstanding their common animosity towards Israel and the US, Hezbollah leaders, Shi’ite religious fundamentalists, do not suffer well secular Arab nationalists who are mostly Sunnis. Hezbollah is closer to Shi’ite Iran than secular Sunni Syria. The 1989 Taif Agreement brokered under Syrian and US auspices barred Shi’ite Muslims from the two highest offices of Lebanese government and allotted them a disproportionately low share of parliamentary seats. To add insult to injury, Syria refused to let Hezbollah compete freely for these seats, forcing the movement to share joint 50/50 parliamentary slates with the rival Amal Shi’ite movement in Lebanese elections.

Israel targeted Amal positions in South Lebanon in July 2006, Nabih Berri, Lebanon’s speaker of parliament and a leading Shi’a politician, said his Shi’a Amal movement and Hezbollah would join forces against Israel’s offensive in Lebanon. The Israel attack led Berri to urge all Arab governments to support Hezbollah and join the fight against Israel. Significantly, it was a call for pan-Arabism from a Shi’ite fundamentalist leader.

Rank and file Hezbollah militants had experienced humiliating treatment by Syrian occupation forces in the past. In 1987, Syrian forces executed 23 Hezbollah militants who had allegedly resisted their takeover of West Beirut, prompting 50,000 angry Shi’ites to march in the streets chanting “death to Ghazi Kanaan,” then head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, now Syrian Interior Minister.

Still, in support of pan-Arabism, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called a massive pro-Syria popular gathering in Beirut on March 8, 2005. Nasrallah also criticized UN Resolution calling for disarming of Hezbollah and announced that: “The resistance will not give up its arms ... because Lebanon needs the resistance to defend it … all the articles of the UN resolution give free services to the Israeli enemy who should have been made accountable for his crimes and now finds that he is being rewarded for his crimes and achieves all its demands.”

The March 8 2005 Beirut rally called by Hizbollah, which Al Jazeera estimated to be 1.5 million demonstrators, dwarfed the earlier anti-Syrian demonstrations following the assassination of Hariri on February 14. The predominantly Shi’ite protestors held pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad and placards reading, in English, “No for the American Intervention”. In addition to demonstrating the extent of popular support for Syria in Lebanon, the demonstration reiterated Hezbollah's rejection of UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the disbanding of all Lebanese militias, a call that threatens the continued existence of its military wing, the force widely credited for the liberation of south Lebanon. Nasrallah also held demonstrations in Tripoli and Nabatiyé on March 11 and 13, 2005. Tens of thousands protested in Nabatiyé in support of Syria and in opposition to UNSCR 1559.

One problem Syria has with its relationship with Lebanon is that the Lebanon Shi’ite masses had been relegated to the bottom of the socio-economic pecking order during the 3-decade-long Syrian occupation, similar to the treatment of Shi’ites by the Iraqi Ba’athists under Saddam Hussein. Over one million Syrian Sunni workers lived in the country, taking away unskilled labor jobs from the mostly Shi’ite urban poor who had been driven off rural farm by low-price agricultural imports from Syria.

A regime change in Sunni-ruled Iraq by the US unwittingly sparked violent, endless sectarian conflict in Iraq from its majority Shi’ite population. It also unwittingly strengthened Shi’ite Iran and led to the July 2006 conflict between the Lebanese Hezbollah and Israel. The two parties have had squabbles for years that had until now stayed relatively dormant. Israeli overreaction to the Hezbollah kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers revived this dormant hostility into new bloody violence fed by diverse hidden geopolitical agendas. The US “regime change” policy and the subsequent ban of the Iraqi Ba’ath Party weaken secularism and revive abating pan-Arabism. The failure of the US “regime change” strategy also created a geopolitical irony, which is an incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and their expected results. The geopolitical irony is that the dismal failure of US policy on Iraq has emboldened Syria and Iran confidence in pursuing their separate geopolitical agenda by relieving angst over follow-up US “regime change” threats on these states.  In one false foreign policy move, the US has ushered in the end of the age of superpower by showing that, short of all-out global war, military superpower has very limited potency for achieving regional geopolitical objectives.
The irony for Israel is that its 4-week-long attack on Hezbollah damaged Israel more than it did Hezbollah. The Israel Defense Forces miscalculated the vulnerability of the Hezbollah which in fact has become a well-trained and disciplined guerrilla force that is hard to target without heavy collateral damage to civilians. The initial Israeli strategy of obliterating Hezbollah with only air power became inoperative and ground forces were required to achieve Israeli military objectives at an unexpectedly high cost. The horrifying images of dead and wounded civilians, many of them children, generated outrage at barbaric Israeli tactics and sympathy for Hezbollah. Yet despite relentless Israeli bombardment, Hezbollah showed no signs of being liquidated. Israel failed to achieve its objective of eliminating Hezbollah war-making capability because Israel failed to recognize the nature of Hezbollah.
In its war against Hezbollah, Israel aimed to take on a new key role as an indispensable front-line component of the US "war on terror" in the Middle East, just as it played the role as a democratic bulwark against the spread of communism in the Middle East in the Cold War to justify US support. With US concurrence, Israel cited Iran and Syria as sponsors/supporters of Hezbollah.

In launching retaliatory rocket strikes against Israeli bombardment, Hezbollah also aimed to achieve the geopolitical objective of maintaining its strategic solidarity with the Palestinian Hamas by distracting Israel from its ongoing siege of Operation Summer Rain, and to force Israel to face a two-front war. The crisis played into a renewed wave of wide-spread anti-US/Israel sentiment in the Middle East and throughout the Arab world and beyond, and launched calls for a new jihad against pro-US moderate Arabic secular regimes, aiming to redraw the political map of the region into one dominated by Islamic theocracy.

While Hezbollah (Party of God) already occupies 14 out of 27 Shi’a seats in the 128-seat Lebanese parliament (34 Christian, 30 other Christian, 27 Sunni, 8 Druze, 2 Alawi) and two ministerial posts (Energy and Water; Labor) through democratic processes, it hoists high the banner of “resistance to Zionist invasion” to lay a blood claim for control of the future government of Lebanon. Through the crisis, Hezbollah aims to coordinate with Iranian and Syrian regional strategies by distracting the focus of the US and its allies on these two “rogue states” and turning Iran and Syria into key legitimate players, the cooperation of which must be sought to resolve the crisis. The Hezbollah-Israel conflict highlights prominently the important regional role of Iran and Syria and creates a new moral-political climate for the US and its allies to recast the Iraq-Iran-Syria problem away from neo-conservative fixations.

On December 1, 2006, a huge crowd of 800,000 packed the streets of Beirut, responding with cheers and applause as Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun called for the removal of Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, in office since July 19, 2005, succeeding Najib Mikati who served only three months to oversee the parliamentary elections. The Siniora government is the first government formed after the Syrian withdrawal on April 27, 2005 from Lebanon and the first government to include members of Hezbollah. With regards to Hezbollah, the Siniora cabinet’s official stance is that “the government considers the resistance a natural and honest expression of the Lebanese people’s national rights to liberate their land and defend their honor against Israeli aggression and threats.”

On the other hand, the Siniora cabinet has also been working alongside the March 14 Alliance towards a peaceful disarmament of the Hezbollah military wing through an internal political process. The Alliance is a coalition led by Saad Hariri, younger son of Rafik Hariri, the assassinated former prime minister of Lebanon. At the elections of May and June 2005, the alliance became the dominant group in parliament. Saad Hariri was welcomed at the White House by President Bush on January 2006. Apart from General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, all mainstream political currents were represented until the Shi’ite ministers resigned on November 13.

In April, 2006, Siniora paid a high profile visit to Washington and met with President George W. Bush and key members of the Bush Administration. His public pronouncements have been relatively mute with regard to Syria’s alleged involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. The two Hezbollah pro-Syria ministers along with the two Amal pro-Iran ministers, resigned from the Siniora cabinet on November 13, 2006.

Members of the Siniora government blamed Syria for Gemayel’s assassination and accused Syria of trying to prevent the Lebanese government from endorsing a UN Tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the assassination of Hariri. Since the two incidents, Nasrallah has been emboldened by supporters in Syria and Iran to strike an political offensive through peaceful protests to try to force Lebanon’s Siniora government to stand down in the face of popular protest.

Driven by the political momentum of their effective resistance to Israeli invasion, Hezbollah wants overturn the Lebanese constitution which mandates a regime based on a balance of sectarian power for Lebanon’s diverse groups that include Shi’ite, Sunnis and Druze among its majority Muslims, as well as a Christian minority. Just as Israel manages to divide and prevail over the Arab nation, the Christians in Lebanon have managed to politically neutralize the majority Arabs by exploiting Islamic sectarian tension.

and Hamas

Syrian position on the Palestinian issue is framed by its pan-Arabic ideology. Since the 1990s, Syria has hosted senior officials from Hamas, (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, the Islamic Resistance Movement). Syrian relations with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) hit rock bottom when the late Yasser Arafat signed a 1993 peace deal with Israel.

The Damascus-based Hamas politburo led by Khaled Meshal gained importance after assassinated Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in March 2004, followed less than a month later by the assassination of Abdul-Aziz Al- Rantisi, one of Hamas’s principal political leaders.

Hamas grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious and political organization founded in Egypt with branches throughout the Arab world. Beginning in the late 1960s, Hamas’ founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, preached and did charitable work in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, both of which were occupied by Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War. In 1973, Yassin established al-Mujamma' al-Islami (the Islamic Center) to coordinate the Muslim Brotherhood's political activities in Gaza. Yassin founded Hamas as the local political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in December 1987, following the eruption of the first intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza and published its official charter in 1988.

Hamas combines Palestinian nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism. Unlike Arafat, Hamas did not support Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Instead they called for both Iraqi and US withdrawal. Consequently, the Gulf States shifted their funding from PLO to Hamas. Following the collapse of the peace process in the late 1990s, Hamas' popularity rose as Arafat’s fell.

Popular support for Hamas increased further after the Israeli helicopter gunship assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on March 22, 2004. Abdel Azziz Rantissi was chosen to succeed him. Hamas and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)/Palestinian Authroity (PA) began intensive negotiations to allow Hamas to join the PA government and also to rejoin the PLO. At the same time, Hamas was marginalized in the Arab world, and reportedly lost all Saudi funding, including the residual funding that was supposedly used for charities. This support has apparently been replaced by massive funding from Iran.

Rantissi was assassinated on April 17, 2004 by an Israeli army missile. Israeli considered Hamas leaders as “masterminds of terrorism” with blood on their hands. An Israeli spokesman said: “As long as the Palestinian Authority does not lift a finger and fight terrorism, Israel will continue to have to do so itself.” EU foreign ministers reacted to Israel's assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin with sharp criticism, saying such actions only contribute to the cycle of violence. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw condemned the Israeli actions: “The British government has made it repeatedly clear that so-called 'targeted assassinations' of this kind are unlawful, unjustified and counter-productive.” US White House spokesman, Scott McClellan said: "The United States strongly urges Israel to consider carefully the consequences of its actions...” He added however, “As we have repeatedly made clear, Israel has the right to defend itself from terrorist attacks.”

Hamas, the largest and most influential Palestinian militant movement, boycotted the January 2005 presidential elections of the Palestinian Authority (PA) an interim administrative organization that nominally governs parts of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip. But even prior to its 2006 victory in the PA’s legislative elections, the group had made strong showings in municipal elections, especially in Gaza. In January 2006, Hamas won the general legislative elections of the PA.  Hamas defeated Fatah (Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine), the party of PA president Mahmoud Abbas, which has recognized Israel in exchange for Israeli recognition of its parent, the PLO. Since attaining governmental power in the PA, Hamas has continued its refusal to recognize the state of Israel.

Fatah was founded in the early 1960s by Yasser Arafat and supporters in Arabic Algeria. Fatah was originally opposed to the founding of the PLO. Founded in 1964 by the Arab League, the PLO, brain child of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, is a political and paramilitary organization regarded by all Arab states as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.  Fatah, backed by Syria, began carrying out raids against Israeli targets in 1965, launched from Jordan, Lebanon and Gaza. Fatah’s popularity among Palestinians grew as it took over control of the PLO in 1968. Since then it has been the PLO's most prominent faction, under the direct control of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

In 1993, the PLO under Chairman Yasser Arafat recognized the State of Israel in an official letter to its prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. In response to Arafat’s letter, Israel recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Arafat was the Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee from 1969 until his death in 2004. He was succeeded by Mohmoud Abbas who was elected in January 2005.

The PLO has adopted a 2-state solution, with Israel and Palestine coexisting peacefully. The argument for this position is that Palestinian Arabs are entitled to the right of self-determination and sovereignty in their own land, and also to the “right of return” as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, also a basic Israeli doctrine.

The just released Baker Commission/Iraq Study Group Report contained a reference to Palestinian “right of return” sparked immediate concern in Israel. Among Baker Commission’s 79 recommendations for a policy shift on Iraq, number 17 concerned five points it said should be included in a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The final point in the list was: “Sustainable negotiations leading to a final peace settlement along the lines of President Bush's two-state solution, which would address the key final status issues of borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the right of return and the end of conflict.”

The term “right of return” is a long-standing Palestinian demand that has been steadfastly rejected by Israel. Bush, in a 2002 speech became the first US president to formally back the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, but he also did not mention a right of Palestinian return. Former secretary of state James Baker under Bush Sr. clashed with Israel during his tenure over Israel’s intransigence on the Palestinian issue.

The report calls for “new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts” in Iraq and the Region” and “a change in the primary mission of US forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly.”  This means the US should “immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region. This diplomatic effort should include every country that has an interest in avoiding a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq's neighbors. Iraq's neighbors and key states in and outside the region should form a support group to reinforce security and national reconciliation within Iraq, neither of which Iraq can achieve on its own.”

The Palestinian Authority (PA) was established in 1994, pursuant to the Oslo Accord of August 20, 1993 between the PLO and the government of Israel, as a 5-year transitional body during which final status negotiations between the two parties were to take place. The PA had received financial assistance from the European Union, Canada and the US, but both suspended all direct aid on April 7, 2006 as a result of the Hamas victory in parliamentary elections in January 2006. The PA is now led by Abbas (head of Fatah), as president since January 15, 2005, and Ismail Haniyah (head of Hamas) as prime minister since March 29, 2006.

Hamas observed a cease-fire brokered in March 2005 until June 9, 2006, when it ended the truce after reports that Israeli shell killed several civilians on a Gaza beach. On July 10, 2006, Mashal of the Hamas politburo in Damascus declared Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit a prisoner of war and demanded a swap for Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel. On July 31, 2006, Mashal warned Palestinians everywhere against attempts to separate the Lebanese and Palestinian issues. Notwithstanding its violent image in the West, Hamas has earned popular support as a sponsor of an extensive social service network. According to Israeli scholar Reuven Paz, “approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities.”  The radicalization of Hamas, not unlike other resistance movements, has been largely a reaction to a cycle of escalating violence within the context of horrendous injustice being normalized as the status quo.

In his new book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jimmy Carter, who negotiated peace between Israel and Egypt, identifies two interrelated obstacles to permanent peace in the Middle East:
1. Some Israelis believe they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians; and
2. Some Palestinians react by honoring suicide bombers as martyrs to be rewarded in heaven and consider the killing of Israelis as victories.

In turn, Israel responds with retribution and oppression, and militant Palestinians refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and vow to destroy the nation. The cycle of distrust and violence is sustained, and efforts for peace are frustrated.

Carter characterizes Israeli policy as “A system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights,” although many Israelis deride the racist connotation of prescribing permanent second-class status for the Palestinians. Carter quotes one prominent Israeli: “I am afraid that we are moving toward a government like that of
South Africa, with a dual society of Jewish rulers and Arab subjects with few rights of citizenship. The West Bank is not worth it.” An unacceptable modification of this choice, now being proposed, is the taking of substantial portions of the occupied territory, with the remaining Palestinians completely surrounded by walls, fences, and Israeli checkpoints, living as prisoners within the small portion of land left to them. Carter concludes that “It will be a tragedy — for the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the world — if peace is rejected and a system of oppression, apartheid, and sustained violence is permitted to prevail.”

<>For Israel, its handling of the Hezbollah crisis has gone drastically wrong. Even the Israeli hawks complained that by reacting disproportionately, Israel has disrupted its ability to deploy full effective strength in the Gaza Strip to fatally hammer Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni organization that currently forms the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, under pressure from criticism of his disastrous policy on the Hezbollah in Lebanon, said that Israel would display “patience and restraint” in the face of Palestinian breaching of a cease-fire that went into effect on November 26 when PA president Abbas ordered Palestinian security forces to ensure that Gaza militants respect the truce.

One of Syria's conditions for cooperating with the US after the 9:11 terrorist attacks was that the fight against terrorism be carried out within an international framework such as the United Nations, instead of being led by the US. Syria believes that UN mandate to intervene has to be obtained through the General Assembly, not the Security Council, for it to be truly democratic. The UN general Assembly on September 8, 2001 elected Syria as a non- permanent member of the UN Security Council for the years 2002 and 2003, as 160 members of the UN members voted for Syria’s nomination out of 177 of countries taking part in the voting process.

on Terrorism

wants terrorism to be clearly defined by the UN, or alternatively, by an international conference. Along with defining Zionist Israel as the root of terrorism in the Middle East, Syria’s secular view also defined extreme Islamic fundamentalism as terrorism, especially the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which Hamas has sprung, which had in the past tried to topple the Syrian regime.

Bashar Assad himself was quoted by the press as saying on September 25, 2001, two weeks after the 9:11 attacks on the US: “No condescension towards the Arabs on the matter of the struggle against terrorism can be allowed… In Syria, we are very familiar with this issue, and we were the first in the world to deal with terrorist movements that threatened the regime. This happened many years ago.”  Syria insists that “a distinction should be made between terrorism and legitimate resistance. Lebanon was witness to two such cases: Hezbollah is a legitimate movement resisting occupation, and is recognized by UN resolutions drawn up under the auspices of France and the US in 1996, while terrorism is… the Al-Dhanya incidents.” Al-Dhanya was the site of clashes between the Lebanese military and a fundamentalist group with links to Osama bin Laden in 1999.

Syrian position regarding what is not terrorism is uncompromising, claiming that Hizbullah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad are not terrorist movements, but national liberation movements whose military activity against foreign occupation is deemed legitimate by the UN charter. To demonstrate this position, on the first anniversary of the current Palestinian uprising Syria hosted a conference attended by leaders of all organizations it deemed liberation movements: Hizbullah Director-General Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas Political Bureau head Khaled Mash'al, Islamic Jihad leader Ramadhan Abdallah Shalah, PFLP-General Command Director-General Ahmad Jibril, and PFLP Overseas Command chief Maher Al-Taher. Also attending the conference was Deputy Secretary-General of the Syrian Ba'ath Party Abdallah Al-Ahmar, who presented the position of Syria which endorses this conference and with it all the men of the resistance. As in the past, and present, Syria will in the future continue to be a haven for those struggling for liberation, and for the restoration of honor and holy sites.” During the conference, Hizbullah Director-General Hassan Nasrallah said, "None of us must commit suicide or endanger his people only to avoid being called a terrorist…”

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq A-Shar’
explained his country’s position on the issue of terrorist definition: “When your lands are occupied by foreign forces, you have no alternative but to liberate your homeland. Your means are, first and foremost, to launch a war against the enemy occupying your land, or fight against the colonialism in every way possible… If [you] insist that there is no difference between the legitimate right of the peoples to struggle against foreign terrorism and killing innocent civilians in distant places, and if [you] insist that there is no difference between terrorists and those defending their land and trying to liberate it – then there is no difference between the victims of terrorism and the terrorists themselves.”

refuses to participate in military actions against terrorism groups because such actions “would incite to terrorism and harm civilians.” Syria is on the US State Department's list of states supporting terrorism. A-Shar’ dismissed the list: “We do not believe in this list. Many countries do not believe in it, because we have all been fighting terrorism for years. We were the victims of terror [of the Muslim Brotherhood] for six or seven years, and no one helped us, as we are helping the Americans now.”

, and to a large extent the entire Arab world, does not accept the US doctrine of “either you're with us or you're against us.” Syria and other Arab countries seek a third way through its convergence of views with Europe. A London based Arabic paper reported that the Syrian leadership considers the European role as a highly important “bridge between the American culture and the Arabic-Islamic culture.”

Syrian policy towards the US is framed in strategic ambiguity, avoiding frontal confrontation with Washington while adhering to a worldview that opposes US hegemony. Such a policy translates into actions that have obstruct US regional interests and objectives, specifically on the issue of Arab-Israeli, and Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the regime change aspect of the US-led War of Terrorism, particularly with regard to Iran and Syria itself and the disarming of  the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Bashar recognizes the need to minimize US Pavlovian hostility toward Syria as part of its war on terrorism by denouncing the 9:11 attacks and offering to assist the US in its efforts to apprehend those behind it. FBI agents were allowed into Syria in early 2002 to investigate suspected al-Qaeda activists in Syria. Appreciative of Syrian assistance, President Bush called Bashar al-Asad to thank him. Senior US officials were quoted as saying that the information provided by Syria had helped prevent attacks on US targets in the Gulf, and thereby saving American lives. Yet Syria remains uncompromising in its opposition to the strategic thrust of US policy in the Mid East, particularly with regard to Israel and Iran. Syrian Vice President Abd-al Halim Khaddam warned that: “…the American attack on Iraq is designed to bring about the partition of that country, which is a strategic objective of Israel’s. In fact it is part of the long-standing Zionist aim of breaking up the national fabric of the countries of the region... We are defending Iraq, which is an Arab country, and the fate of all the Arabs is bound up with its fate. We are not Finland and therefore we cannot relate to Iraq's fate with equanimity. Iraq is a strategic hinterland for Syria in its conflict with Israel. We supported Kuwait when Iraq invaded its territory, but today Iraq is under attack and therefore we are standing at its side.”

<>Following the Israeli Operation Defensive Shield, the hostile attitude held by the Syrian public toward US policies intensified in early 2002, in the form of street demonstrations near the US Embassy in Damascus and later in organized boycotts of US goods. Signs appeared in the windows of restaurants reading: “No entry to Americans.” The US consul-general in Damascus was escorted out of the Ocsigen Restaurant in Bab Tuma, the Christian Quarter of Damascus, giving the owners of the restaurant popular hero status after the incident. Yet the street demonstrations were relatively subdued compared to the December 1998 protests against US “Desert Fox” attack on Iraq when demonstrators broke into and damaged the US ambassador’s residence, tearing the US flag down from the roof, causing a diplomatic incident, especially after Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Talas characterized it as “an act of heroism.” The Syrian government apologized to the US, disassociated itself from Talas’s undiplomatic statement, and paid compensation to the US for damages sustained by US diplomatic properties.

On the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, Bashar made a passionate appealed to pan-Arabism by declaring that the US “is interested only in gaining control over Iraqi oil and redrawing the map of the region in keeping with its worldview.” Citing lessons from history, he added: "In the past we did not sense the danger closing in on us in the face of fateful developments including the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the establishment of the State of Israel, but the danger to the Arabs inherent in the war in Iraq is no less than any of those.” He warned fellow Arabs about the guise of friendship from the US, which, he said, “is more fatal than its hostility,” adding that Bush does not understand that “for the Arabs, honor is more important than anything else, even food.”

made attempts to press the other Arab states to defend Iraq and expressed dissatisfaction with the pro-US stand position of passive bystander of some moderate Arab states, including Egypt. At the March 2003 Arab Summit in Sharm al-Shaykh in Egypt, Bashar pointed an accusing finger at those Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states, for collaborating with the US in the war against a fraternal Iraq, particularly Qatar, where US Headquarters in the Gulf was located. The Syrian newspaper Aswad-Abyad accused Qatar of having become the “Zionist project No. 2 in the Middle East and even an American colony and a base for the subjugation of the Gulf and the control of our treasures.” Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania are the only three of the twenty-two Arab states that recognize Israel. Qatar maintains trade relations with Israel. Nevertheless, Syria views good relations with the Gulf States as an important element in Syrian foreign policy of pan-Arabism.

does not want to see Arabic sectarian instability in Iraq or the region in the long term. US policy-makers who argue that Syria must be isolated and subdued misread the Syrian Ba’ath Party. Ba’athism is becoming a stronger political force as time passes which can be a positive factor in stabilizing the region. Its record in dealing with sectarian conflict and extremist fundamentalism is impressive in both Syria and Iraq. Fundamentally, US policy cannot hope to succeed by harboring anti-pan Arabism any more than it can contain Islamist extremism by promoting religious fundamentalism at home and abroad.

Next: The Situation in Iran