Friday, June 10, 2011

Syria And Its Supposed Role

By Hassan Haidar
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 09/06/2011

The citizens who were shown on Syrian state television pleading with the army to intervene and save them from the “armed gangs” in the city of Jisr Al-Shughur provide a carbon copy of the pleas shown by the same state television in 1976, saying that they had been directed by Lebanese mayors to the Syrian army, so that it may intervene to “save the Christians” in Lebanon – before tangible experience showed that the Lebanese of all sects and political parties were in “the same bag” for the regime in Damascus.

Although the difference in time between what is taking place in Syria today and what took place in Lebanon back then is of more than 35 years, the Syrian regime still makes use of the same methods to justify its behavior and present it as a requirement of the “role” it plays in “maintaining stability” in the region, establishing a link between its internal stability and continuing to play such a role, without any evolution in political or media concepts that would be in tune with the change taking place in the world.

Yet in this new situation it faces, the Syrian regime seems unable to realize the limits of the role devised for it by the West. Indeed, when it invaded Lebanon the first time, it put its move forward from the perspective of a trade-off between Western interests and its own interests. “Containing” Lebanon was at the time a strategic goal for the Syrian regime that met with a strategic goal for the West, and especially the US, based on keeping the threat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) away from Israel and putting a stop to its activities in Lebanon. Western powers at the time thus contributed to exaggerating Syria’s “regional role”, among the conditions of which was keeping the Syrian Golan front quiet and restraining Palestinian factions in South Lebanon. And although Damascus’s partial failure to implement the latter part drove Israel to invade Lebanon in 1982, the margin for maneuvering granted to Syria in the Lebanese interior allowed it to return to Beirut once again to stop the fabricated wars between its allies. And throughout this period, the West turned a blind eye to the violations committed by the Damascus regime in Lebanon as well as in Syria itself, its increasing closeness to Iran, and its military and political support of Hezbollah, preferring diplomatic pressures and calm attempts at convincing, as long as the main part of the agreement was still in effect.

The Syrian regime seems as if it has truly come to believe that it could abandon its undeclared commitments without changing itself. Thus, after making verbal threats, it began to effectively threaten the stability prevailing on the Golan front by sending thousands of Palestinian youths to cross the “border”, incited and organized by Palestinian factions loyal to it. It thus committed two mistakes: the first when it revealed that it was maintaining calm on the Golan front for reasons other than those it spoke of, especially the slogan of “strategic balance” with Israel; and the second when it thought that it could really abandon the burden of its “regional role”, which it had protected throughout the past decades.

Perhaps Syria turning on its commitments in such a way, including in what the West claims about it supplying Hezbollah with long-range missiles and attempting to build a secret nuclear reactor, explains the gradual escalation in the stances of Western countries on what is taking place in Syria, the tough sanctions they have imposed on Damascus, and their efforts to issue a resolution condemning it at the Security Council, after most Western capitals have come to consider that the regime in Damascus has lost its legitimacy, without those capitals harboring any concerns over stability in the region.

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