Dr. Walid Phares

www.walidphares.com

 

Opinion, March 22, 2005

Lebanonwire

Syrian regime planning evil but Lebanon resistance is growing

According to sources within the “Cedars Revolution,” the withdrawing Syrian forces have left behind them a vast network aiming at subversive activities in order to prove that they are need to maintain security. The Baath party branch, The Syrian Social-Nationalist Party (SSNP), the Intelligence services of the Lebanese and Syrian regimes, the intelligence network of the Republican Guard (Colonel Moustafa Hamdane), and the Surete Generale (Colonel Jamil Sayed) have established a coordination network under the direct command of the Syrian Mukhabarat out of Damascus. Hizbollah and the Jihadists within the Palestinian camps are considered as the “second reserves,” to be used when and if “outside, meaning international forces” come in. Last week, the first strike by this shadow Syrian network hit a popular neighborhood in Jdeideh, in East Beirut. The same sources believe it was executed by Republican Guard operatives, who want to scare Lebanon’s youth against participation in the sit-ins and demonstrations. They also could be trying to deter financial institutions from supporting the democracy movement.

Some analysts in Beirut believe that this Syrian network may attempt to assassinate politicians, intellectuals and even high ranking officers of the Lebanese Army to cripple Lebanon – in other words, an edited version of the terrorist attacks in Iraq, which are also supported from Damascus.

Less than four regular brigades of the Syrian Army remains in Lebanon, three of the 10th Syrian infantry division and an independent one deployed in Baalbek. They have received orders to pullout from Lebanon before April 7. These troops, according to sources inside Syria, will be deployed on the border with Iraq to reinforce the two divisions stationed there. Policy planners within the regime, in agreement with their Iranian counterparts, are taking very seriously US and European pressure and are keeping an eye on the “concentration of naval US forces in the Eastern Mediterranean.” In a sum, the Damascus-Tehran axis seems to have developed a “Lebanon plan.”

This plan entails pulling out the regular troops inside the “Baathist Reich” while deploying a plethora of terror and intelligence networks inside Lebanon. Colonel Hamdane has been calling all his collaborators in Beirut and supplying them with weapons. In addition, he controls the “Mourabitoun organization”, formerly commanded by his maternal uncle Ibrahim Koleylat. The group was resuscitated by Syria a few years ago and is now an organized network in West Beirut with about 500 fighters. They could be ordered into action at any time.

Reports of Syria’s withdrawal of its regular troops have been the best news for Lebanon’s army in 30 years. The commander of the Lebanese Army, General Michel Sleimane, issued a communiqué stressing on “law and order” after the Jdeideh bombing. Furthermore Sleimane emphasized that “the Army is protecting the liberty of speech.” Unheard before, this doctrine may constitute an important new element. Slowly, the Lebanese regular forces may move to fill in the void. They would become the “defenders of the demonstrators not their oppressors.” This has already happened in many areas since the assassination of Hariri. A serious danger would be a strike by the Mukhabarat against the Lebanese officers. If this occurs, there will be a “second Syrian army” in Lebanon, dominated by their stooges. But the Lebanese Diaspora leaders, concerned about this threat, have informed the Security Council of this possibility, asking for an international “protection of the only military institution capable of assuming Lebanon’s long term security after the Syrian withdrawal.” Within the United Nations, Western and Arab diplomats alike are now drawing a red line around the Lebanese Army, which they recognize as the only real hope for hard work that will surely be necessary to create a peaceful, democratic Lebanon.

Inside Lebanon, pro-Syrian politicians still hope the “wave will die out” and the Cedars Revolution will be a Beirut spring, a clone to Prague in 1968. But deep inside Lebanon’s civil society, students, farmers, school teachers, fishermen, women’s groups and religious orders from all communities know this is their time, and this is their one shot at freedom. Again this week, the world will see them marching again. But this time, the show will be even greater. The Lebanese are known for their fertile imagination. Next Sunday, Muslims and Christians will come not only from their villages and cities to chant for freedom and democracy, but–as their ancestors the Phoenicians did—also from the sea.

Dr Walid Phares is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington and a Professor of Middle East Studies. He is also the Secretary General of the World Lebanese Cultural Union. www.wlcu.org. Dr. Phares wrote this commentary for LEBANONWIRE