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  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 21,517 21,900  19,500 67
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 US $ 1,160 1,130     1,040 130
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Syria

Update No: 046 - (28/08/07)

Al-Jabha al-Mumana'a (The Rejection Front)
August marked the one year anniversary of the end of last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah (though much of Lebanon was affected, Shiite and not). The conflict had the effect of strengthening Hezbollah, giving the Shiite communities more faith in the movement, while pulverizing Israel's aura of invincibility. Syria's position, as Hezbollah's ally, was bolstered by association. Syria could claim to have a winner in its circle of influence, even though of course Syria did not actually participate in the fighting. A year later and the main effect of last year's war is that it made Lebanon's fragile society and political framework even more fragile, as the fracture between the US and Saudi backed government of Fouad Siniora, and the Hezbollah-led opposition has grown.

Last fall Shiite ministers walked out from cabinet, creating a constitutional problem, as the Lebanese constitution holds that Shiites be represented in government for it to be legitimate. That political conflict started after the withdrawal of Syrian troops in April 2005 - and the corresponding rise of American support for Siniora's government. American efforts to reduce Hezbollah's influence and rising power continue to focus on disarming Hezbollah, even as this task has become even more difficult on account of the strength and resolve that the group has mustered after last summer's war. In fact it seems as it always did, that such an outcome just isn't going to happen, unless Syria ordained it, and even that might be a mirage. Every political-religio-ethnic group in Lebanon has their militia. Where once it was the Maronites, then the Palestinians, it is just that right now Hezbollah's is the most formidable. 

Lebanon is also the virtual 'battlefield' where the United States administration is challenging Iran's regional influence, while Iran is also Syria's strongest regional ally. The emergence of a Sunni radical group, Fatah al-Islam, as witnessed by the fighting at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp - which continues since last May 20 - was connected by various insiders to a CIA plot to create a challenge for Hezbollah and Shiite militants. If so that must be regarded by prime-minister Siniora as a Frankenstein's monster of an idea. Arguably, the situation in Lebanon is at its most tense since the 1975-1990 civil war. Washington has also blocked efforts to form a national unity government, the talks for which have a very slim chance of resuming after they broke down last February in the wake of spats of inter-confessional riots in Beirut. The Bush - read neo-conservative rhetoric - is as usual very reductive and predictable: the Lebanese political problem is one of extremists and moderates, as Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are destabilizing the popularly elected government. Of course, if Bush were sincere, he would have to recognize, that if the argument is to be based on popular mandates, it is Hezbollah which has the popular numbers. Hezbollah is also in coalition that crosses Shi-ite indeed Moslem lines, because it includes Christian Maronite elements led by General Michel Aoun, a not untypical cobbled together Lebanese political alliance. 

Washington's support of Israel's war last July - even supplying it with extra munitions of cluster bombs, the unexploded ones still maiming and killing people in Southern Lebanon - and Condoleeza Rice's hapless explanations why a ceasefire was not in Lebanon's best interests have turned much of the March 2005 US sympathies around. 

Whatever the stripe, pro-Syria or against, the biggest lesson about the United States from last summer's war was that any American support for Lebanon would always be compromised by American support for Israel. 

Meanwhile, in the midst of this quagmire, Syria is the customary knee-jerk suspect for the series of assassinations of politicians and journalists who are inevitably anti-Syrian, epitomized by the case of Rafiq al-Hariri. The plots intend to further undermine Syria, even though it does not appear to have gained anything worthwhile in Lebanon, which continues to totter on the brink of a wider scale internal conflict. That would inevitably involve Syria (and Iran), leaving the United States and other allies (regional ones too), a pretext to adopt an even tougher stance against Damascus. The irony, of course, is that the war of 2006 has made the Syrian - Hezbollah relationship even stronger. From Syria's perspective the Hezbollah relationship has given it credibility with the Arab street and with the Syrian population. By thwarting Israel's plans and surviving its onslaught, Hezbollah achieved what no other Arab state has ever been able to do. 

This alliance has also helped neoconservative elements in the United States to continue to paint a negative picture of Syria, which even the best efforts of Bashir al-Asad and his wife Selma, (speaking excellent English in a charming US television interview last spring), have not been able to erase. Iraq has exacerbated the tension with Syria. Apart from the often muttered accusations that Syria is allowing terrorists to cross its border into Iraq (until recently ignoring the apparent flood of Saudi suicidist volunteers across that border), the US failure in Iraq itself has sent it looking for areas of regional success to be able to sustain its 'democratizing' influence. Syria is a convenient enemy when compared against 'democratic' Lebanon, where US influence had such a positive role in prompting elections. Lebanon has become some sort of a showpiece, a threadbare trophy for an administration, which everyone knows could quickly become unglued.

In a sense Syria now has to choose between gaining acceptance in the 'international community' in the Libyan fashion, by cutting ties to Hezbollah and Iran - and taking a big risk with nationalist Baathists and the Arab 'street', or by preparing for a wider military challenge which could see it engaging in a direct war (rather than by proxy) with Israel. The probability of such an event increases (but Syria could not prevail militarily and they must know that), only in the event that the US or Israel attack Iran. Rumors of that potential conflict abound. 

Now, the pendulum seems to be swinging in a direction closer to the latter, Syria's alliance with Iran is causing a regional rift between itself and countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, which could grow more intense than the 1980's, when Iraq (then a US ally) was fighting a war against Iran - then as now Syria's ally. 

Just as in the 1980's competing Palestinian interests are now reflected in the regional tensions, and Hamas is placed alongside Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. This alliance has come to be known as al-Jabha al-Mumana'a 'the rejection front,' - a name borrowed from a loose affiliation of Palestinian groups in 1974 which rejected the PLO's two-state solution approach. This is an apt name, because, as with many issues in the post World War II Middle East, no exploration of regional issues can escape a confrontation with competing ideological positions over the Palestinian cause, which has also meant since 1967, an examination of the role of the United States in the region. Indeed, Saudi Arabia's multi-billion dollar arms deal with the United States has now compelled the Kingdom to reverse the rapprochement trend, that had characterized relations with Syria since the Arab League summit last March in Riyadh. Lebanon is at the center of the dispute. 

Riyadh accused Damascus of trying to stoke disorder in the region. Saudi Arabia has also been establishing its own direct contacts with Iran (which is a significant concern as fears of a Shiite crescent of power from Iran to Lebanon), eliminating the role of Syria as a middleman. Saudi Arabia, which supports the Siniora government, is also concerned by the forthcoming presidential elections. It could not have been pleased in a 'barometer' by-election to replace the slain Pierre Gemayel. In fact, this election, expected to be won by another pro-Siniora government Maronite, was lost in the same way that the ANP was supposed to have won over Hamas in the Palestinian 2006 elections. The Christian Maronites of Lebanon have voted for Camille Khoury, a man opposed to the majority government of Fouad Siniora in Beirut. In 2005, at the height of the US backed 'Cedar revolution', those voters backed the pro-Siniora Gemayel.
Clearly, the pro-American government of Lebanon is now suffering from American influence. Michel Aoun, now with his followers a Hezbollah ally, then fought against Syrian troops in the final stages of the civil war in the 1990, is running for president later in 2007. The Siniora and US governments are hoping to replace the pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud with one of their own, but Aoun has a good chance of ruining those expectations. Meanwhile, even as Syria and Israel continue to argue over the Golan, refusing each other's conditional offers to negotiate the disputed territory, Russia has started to deliver new and advanced air defense units to Syria. The system involves the Pantsyr-S1E self-propelled short-range missile air defense system, and was particularly sensitive in light of Israeli claims last year that Russian arms sold to Syria, had ended up in the hands of militant group Hezbollah. Media reports have put the number of units sold to Syria at around 36. 

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