Thursday, February 17, 2005

A bomb in Beirut

Two previous posts - here and here

From The Financial Times Magazine, 5 Feb,  'The last fling' by David Gardner (link here)
Since Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father Hafez al-Assad as Syria’s president four years ago, those in charge in Damascus - including Ghazi Kenaan, the military intelligence chief who ran Lebanon for 20 years - appear most interested in the economics of Lebanon.

”This is no more than a giant racket,” says one opposition leader. “Under Hafez al-Assad Syria saw Lebanon as political patrimony to be used in the larger Middle East game. But these people are no longer even interested in the politics.”
[Walid] Jumblatt and Hamade’s real crime, however, has been to foster cross-communal unity. Three years ago the Druze leader received the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, in a historic reconciliation between the two communities that devolved into an alliance between Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc and the mainstream Christian opposition. That was bad enough from the Syrians’ point of view, but they got really spooked once Hamade became the link-man in the emerging alliance between Hariri’s powerful Sunni bloc and the opposition. As Nayla Moawad, widow of the president who died for doing much the same thing, puts it: “The great taboo for the Syrians is to have any bridge between the communities.”

Four different government and opposition sources, moreover, confirm that the Syrian leadership reacted implacably to Lebanese hostility to its enforced extension of President Lahoud’s mandate. It said it would burn Beirut rather than leave it: “We destroyed the country once and we can do it again - we will never allow ourselves to be pushed out,” was the precise threat.
But what ranks as an almost gratuitous act of political vandalism was the way Syria burnt its bridges with France and Jacques Chirac. This relationship, facilitated by Hariri, was Damascus’s only real window on the world. Yet the Ba’athist leadership not only rebuffed insistent French suggestions it withdraw from Lebanon, Assad simply ignored letters from Chirac, including one lobbying for a $700m gas contract that instead went to a little known consortium with ties to the nomenklatura. “This is the inebriation of corruption,” says one person familiar with the details.
This of course was before Monday's events in Beirut shot Lebanon back to the top of the news.

Update (19 Feb)
Comments here.
Guy links to some more weblog commentaries here.Harry's Place has a couple of posts - I have commented on Rounding up the usual suspect.


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