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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 21,517 21,900  19,500 67
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,160 1,130     1,040 130
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Books on Syria


Update No: 081 - (29/09/10)

Is Hezbollah About to Become a Sacrificial Lamb?
In 2005, the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri prompted a series regional shifts, which resulted in Syrian troops withdrawing from Lebanon and a new political arrangement, featuring a pro-Western and Saudi backed coalition – which is now the leading force in the National Unity government in Beirut, the March 14 coalition borne out of the ‘Cedar Revolution’ and the pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian March 8 coalition dominated by Hezbollah. The implications of the murder have been discussed at length, including in the Syria section of Newnations; however, the Hariri murder could be about to produce another important shift, a more significant one from the wider regional standpoint. In the September update, we hinted that the new general prosecutor of the Special Court installed to investigate the Hariri assassination (TSL), Daniel Bellemare, has closed the file on Syria, clearing its government of involvement; in 2005, the United States, Saudi Arabia and France instantly condemned Syria as if they had indisputable evidence of Syria’s guilt. Bellemare is now determined to focus the investigation on Hezbollah; the Lebanese left wing (closer to the March 8 coalition) newspaper as-Safir has confirmed that Bellemare will formalize charges against Hezbollah, for the Hariri murder, before the end of 2010. The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has denied any involvement, denouncing Israeli involvement over the past few weeks, but Bellemare is determined, advising that formal charges will be laid against the Shiite movement.

The Hariri case has been exploited politically and strategically by all sides and this will continue. By focusing on Hezbollah and leaving out Syria, it facilitates the development of closer ties between Syria and Saudi Arabia, as well as Syria and the West. Lebanon and Syria have been engaging in a sustained period of rapprochement over the course of the past summer, and Syria has established good enough links with the March 14 group and other former detractors, like the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, that Hezbollah is not as important as it was five years ago for its interests. Indeed, the March 14 group has suggested the Lebanese army would engage Israeli forces in case of another July 2006 style invasion – the then prime minister Fouad Seniora let Hezbollah take the brunt of the war, suggesting Israel’s war was against Hezbollah alone. Everything considered, Syria is unlikely to offer too vociferous a protest against Bellemare’s indictment of its Lebanese Shiite ally.

It is our speculation that the Syrian government will take advantage of the focus of the investigation on Hezbollah to distance itself from the group, in order to signal to Israel that its is willing to sacrifice some alliances for the sake of resuming bilateral peace talks and make progress toward regaining the Golan – which remains the main Syrian goal. Syria has been establishing closer ties to important Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, it is now in a better position to start consider loosening (though not cutting, for it can be an important intermediary) the links to Iran.

Tensions in Lebanon are high and Nasrallah has officially stated that he fears that Bellemare’s investigation represents the spearhead of an international campaign to “disarm the Lebanese resistance”, in order to facilitate another Israeli attack in the style of 2006. He stressed that the TSL is merely a tool to hit Syria and Hezbollah rather than actually discover the truth about the Hariri case. For his part, the current Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, in a public statement significantly admitted to having made a ‘mistake’ when he accused Syria of being responsible of murdering his father: “this was a political accusation and this political accusation is no longer in the order of the day” he said. More interestingly perhaps, these declarations have come just as Syria has resumed an intense round of talks with the United States, prompted by the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, during which special White House envoy George Mitchell and other officials visited Syria on more than one occasion. Indeed, the Syrian leadership, now released from the yoke of ‘guilt’, has not said anything to defend its ’client’, implying that it may have no interest at all in doing so. This has not gone unnoticed by Nasrallah, who said that there is a strong attempt to isolate his movement. At this point, the technicalities of the evidence against Hezbollah and the charges are secondary, for the ‘release’ of Syria now gives it more autonomy to pursue its self-interest.

The Syrian Baathist regime, more than any other middle Eastern government, has always pursued its self interest first. It should be noted, however, that Bellemare’s special witness, a man claiming to be a Syrian agent called Zuheir Siddiq, said that Ghazi Kanaan, the former head of Syrian intelligence in Beirut until his mysterious and murderous death in October 2005, gave him documents proving Hezbollah’s involvement. If all of this is true, then it suggests that Syria was protecting Hezbollah – until now. Siddiq also calls into question other mysterious figures linked to Syrian secret services, but whom have all been killed in odd circumstances; this is very convenient, seeing as they can’t be questioned. Politically, speaking, Hezbollah has become inconvenient, even to Syria, which is no longer confronted with regional and international isolation as it was in the summer of 2006. Hezbollah could be sacrificed, in other words, in the long term, seems to be the new Syrian policy, if it brings us closer to the Golan by diplomatic means.

In terms of the Israel –Palestine peace talks there is also the issue of Hamas; if the current peace talks or any other peace talks are to have any degree of success, Hamas must be completely engaged as an equal partner and the political force that it actually is in Gaza, or it must be completely isolated.

The chances of any engagement between the current Netanyahu government and Hamas are microscopic and if the US administration, facing a number of domestic problems, wants to have success in the Middle East at any cost, Hamas must be completely isolated. This means that Syria must cut its ties to Hamas, as well as Hezbollah. Evidently, Syria must have been promised that Israel would take part in serious talks to negotiate the Golan, in exchange for cutting Hezbollah and Hamas away. Saudi Arabia is spearheading the effort to isolate Syria from the overbearing ties to Hezbollah. The calculus is hardly a gamble. Syria has always pursued its interest in Lebanon. In 1975, Syria intervened again in support of the very Christian Maronites, who would later be one of the main enemies of the Palestinians and later Hezbollah. Syria is interested ion Lebanon’s stability – regardless of which party button it has to press in order to achieve a ‘balance’. Syria’s ‘friendly’ disposition has been experiencing a slow but decided shift toward the March 14 coalition, even while it has kept links to Hezbollah. The risk is that Hezbollah may be forced to secure even closer ties to Iran, as Syria drifts away – president Ahmadinejad is to visit Lebanon on October 13; moreover, Hezbollah continues to dominate in Southern Lebanon, which perpetuates the imbalance. That said, although it is a very long shot, the Saudis, the Americans, and tacitly the Syrians, might ease up on Iran’s nuclear developments, choosing to trust it more, when it says that the Islamic Republic is not pursuing nuclear weapon development. Syria could also put pressure on the milder and more secular Shiite Lebanese party, Amal led by Nabih Berri, to loosen ties to Hezbollah. Speculation over the manoeuvres in Lebanon will abound in the next few months; nevertheless, it is evident that Syria is preparing for a new regional shift.



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