Somewhere in the shock waves of the terrible explosion that robbed Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and at least 14 innocent bystanders of their lives, there is a sadness-tinged hope for the future. Indeed, the possibility of positive repercussions from this heinous act goes far beyond new pressure on Syria to end its iron fist meddling in Lebanese affairs. It could also very well remove a roadblock to the Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations; eliminate or reduce a source of funding for the Iraqi insurgency and international terrorism; and help repair the United States' relationship with the European powers.
The first and best sign of a new day dawning has been the intensely angry reaction to Hariri's murder throughout the civilized world, and, more to the point, from France.
It was only last October, after all, that in the wake of the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which demanded that a certain unnamed neighbor (i.e. Syria) end interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon, Syrian intellectuals and government officials (including President Bashar Assad) dismissed any suggestion that France's vote in favor of the resolution was anything more than bluster.
"Syria and Lebanon have become France's sole windows or gateways to the Middle East region," Fayez Sayegh, editor-in-chief of the official Syrian daily al-Thawra, told UPI. "Thus it is not in its interest to press for Syria's military withdrawal from Lebanonâ€¦ France has many interests in Syria, and I don't see any interest for Paris to back the resolution in the long-run."
Now four months later, France and the United States have joined hands in the Security Council, calling Syria out by name and demanding an end to the de-facto occupation of Lebanon. One French diplomat went so far as to tell the Associated Press that France and the U.S. were working "hand in hand" to resolve the crisis.
While French President Jacques Chirac was a close friend of Hariri, the semi-official policy of his government toward Syria was to wait for it to come around and do the right thing. France hoped that when anticipated economic and political reforms finally came down the pike, the French would reap monetary and diplomatic benefits.
That dream has now apparently been laid aside in favor of a tougher stance. If it holds, Iran may regret its hasty announcement of a "common front" with Syria. Iran's connection to a state that is quickly becoming a pariah even to "enlightened" European nations cannot possibly work to its favor in the ongoing negotiations over Iranian nuclear ambitions. It's a long shot, but perhaps Europe's failure to change the nature of the Syrian regime with kind words and kid-gloves will bleed over into how it views the Iranian crisis.
Either way, a Syrian government increasingly embroiled in an international crisis will find it more difficult to arm and finance the Iraqi insurgency, as well as other terrorist entities. Syria does not revel in its isolation as North Korea does. It wants to be both a thug and a legitimate player, something it is finding particularly hard to do these days. Likewise, states such as France, which seem keen to allow that same insurgency play out against America as proof that its opposition to the Iraq war was sound, will find it more difficult to oppose Syria's thuggish behavior without acknowledging that country's role in international terrorism and destabilizing Iraq.
Yes, but how could this positively effect the Trans-Atlantic Alliance? Never underestimate the power of creating a common enemy.
"France says to itself, 'Since we've had pretty awful relations recently, we need to get closer to the United States. But we clearly showed on Iraq that we opposed the American invasion, so we'll try to get closer through another door in the Middle East,'" Barah Mikail, an expert at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris, suggested to the AP. "Lebanon is that door."
Further, as Syria comes to the forefront of international debate, Israel's hand in trying to ward off Russia's proposed sale of shoulder-fired missiles to Syria will have been greatly strengthened. Perhaps Russia, eager for friends in the Middle East to offset American influence, will choose to stand by Syria even as the world condemns and sanctions it. But it's possible Russia will answer the call to reason, as it occasionally does. (Remember a few brief weeks ago when Russia denied any intention of selling Syria advanced missile technology? Turns out that wasn't exactly true, which begs the question, how much weight should be given to Russian denials vis-Ã -vis Iran's nuclear ambitions?) Also, Syria's open encouragement of the terrorist campaign against Israel will also become more risky in the current political situation.
Any reduction in terrorist activity, of course, gives the current Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire, all the more chance of success. This is one more beam of light in a situation we already have many reasons to be optimistic about.
Of course, resolve could wane and the Lebanese could be forgotten with the next news cycle, making all of these positive possibilities mere wishful thinking from a quaint moment in history. But here's hoping things go the other way. Here's hoping Rafik Hariri did not die in vain.
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