This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 25/05/2011
The establishment of diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon and the exchange of diplomatic representation at the level of ambassadors in Damascus and Beirut, was perceived as a sign for the beginning of a new stage between the two countries. Indeed, the Syrian recognition of the Lebanese state, which reached its peak with the approval of the dispatch of an ambassador to Beirut, meant – among other things – the approval of all the stipulations of the Sykes-Picot agreement and the establishment of Greater Lebanon at the beginning of last century, as well as the removal of areas which were affiliated with Syria and their annexation to Lebanon. Consequently, this delayed recognition implied a new Syrian approach toward the Lebanese state, but also toward the nature of the relations that should exist between both countries.
However, ever since a Syrian ambassador was appointed to Beirut and a Lebanese ambassador to Damascus, this approach failed to surface and Syria’s vision of the land of the cedars remained unchanged. Even the Syrian behavior shifted in accordance with the military withdrawal in 2005, and nothing more. Therefore, at the level of the Syrian strategy, Lebanon remained the position from which Damascus addressed the world, whether it is the neighboring region or the Western powers.
It is for this reason that Damascus summoned back the Sykes-Picot agreement and the colonial goals in its response to the American and European sanctions imposed on Syrian officials, as it placed these sanctions in the context of the foreign ambitions and the pressures exerted on Damascus which is standing in the face of these plans. The Syrian talk about the connection between the sanctions and Sykes-Picot, and the confirmation that Damascus could harm European interests, pointed to the attempt to connect Lebanon to the protests witnessed in Syria. And regardless of the causal link between these sanctions and the excessive and bloody oppression targeting the protests in Syria, the attempts to link Lebanon to them is a mere exportation of the problem, in order to shift the attention away from the domestic turmoil and render the land of the cedars part of this problem.
Damascus accused Lebanese sides of funding and arming the elements shooting during the demonstrations in Syria. Identical and quasi-official accusations were also made to these sides of continuing to dispatch armed men - especially during the bloody confrontations in Tal Kalakh - thus linking the “armed men” in this town to the Lebanese twin Wadi Khaled. Although no one believed that the “Islamic Emirate of Tel Kalakh” was established to communicate with a similar “Emirate” on the Lebanese border and in North Lebanon, the greater goal behind this association is to render the Lebanese state – via the army – a party in the Syrian domestic problem. At this level, the Lebanese northern region offers the necessary elements to secure such a goal, as the experience of the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugees’ camp and the “Emirate” of Shaker al-Absi in it confirmed the existence of these elements and the implication of the Lebanese army in a bloody battle whose repercussions it has yet to absorb.
There might be Lebanese figures and small parties that lived off the Syrian influence and are willing to carry out whatever they are ordered to do to maintain their acquisitions, including the detonation of the security situation and the shifting of the Arab and international attention toward the Lebanese situation and away from the Syrian domestic arena. However, the stalemate affecting the formation of the Lebanese government conveys what is much more dangerous, as it is affecting the role of the constitutional institutions and its replacement with a new equation consecrating drastic change in the nature of the Lebanese system that is one of consensus among the country’s components and sects. This is at the heart of the Syrian domestic problem, which is prompting the slogans heard in the protests and the demands of the opposition parties and figures.