An "earthquake" is what they are calling the report submitted on Friday by Detlev Mehlis, the head of the United Nations team investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
"Earthquake" refers to the fact that very senior officials in the Lebanese and Syrian regimes were found to be directly or indirectly involved in the murder, including Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk a-Shara, who intentionally misled the investigation commission.
What is surprising is that there is ostensibly no reason to perceive this as an earthquake. After all, Lebanon has already experienced the murder of top politicians, including at least one president and several former presidents. Similarly, Syrian intelligence is known for its involvement in the liquidation of political rivals in Syria and Lebanon. So why did Lebanon become the epicenter this time?
Even before Hariri's murder, Syria was marked as a preferred target by the Bush administration and as an inseparable component of the axis of evil. It was accorded this title mainly because it was perceived as hampering the U.S. war effort in Iraq and encouraging terrorists to operate there. If Syria had participated in the American war effort, and if it had allowed the U.S. to move its troops into Iraq via Syria at the beginning of the war - that is, if Syria had kept to its anti-Iraqi stance of the first Gulf War - it is doubtful whether anyone would have imagined forming a commission to investigate the murder of a Lebanese prime minister, or to pursue the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which demands that Syria leave Lebanon, disarm its militias and allow the Lebanese Army to control the Lebanon-Israel border.
However, the issue of Bashar Assad's intelligence as a head of state does not require an investigation commission. He made every mistake possible vis-a-vis the U.S. and Lebanon, and in less than five years of rule he ended up with a losing hand no matter which card he played. Assad did the incredible: A protectorate, Lebanon, became a catalyst for punishing its protector. Washington would not have succeeded in expelling Assad from Lebanon on its own, without the mass Lebanese opposition movement after Hariri's murder on February 14. A new Lebanese government headed by Fuad Siniora, a close associate of Hariri, made it clear to Syria that the rules of the game had changed.
Now, after the extent of the Syrian regime's involvement in Hariri's murder has become evident, Assad may be compelled to pack the historic Lebanon into the Syrian Museum and forget about it.
And thus, Hariri's murder, which was ostensibly designed to serve Syrian interests, to intimidate Bashar's opponents and perpetuate the sumo hug with Lebanon, ultimately boomeranged. The United States could not have expected a better turn of events. With almost no effort from Washington, except for several belligerent statements, Lebanon did all of the work - not with the intention of serving the U.S., but for its own benefit.
The question now is where the aftershocks of the earthquake will lead. Syria under Bashar is a lost state in many ways. Partial economic sanctions have already been imposed and countries that are not parties to these sanctions are not hurrying to invest in Syria in any case.
It is doubtful that Assad will get up this week and announce his return to medical studies. In the current situation, it is reasonable to assume that he will tighten his grip on his associates, some of whom have become his adversaries, and make sure that no opposition dares to think that an opportunity has arisen.
Therefore, our eyes should be directed toward Lebanon. That is where the new political development in the Middle East is likely to occur. After a stage of political and military purification in the wake of the Mehlis investigation, after the remnants of the Syrian hold disappear, we can anticipate several important developments. For example, the disarmament of Hezbollah, feelers toward Israel as an alternative land bridge to Arab states (as a replacement for Syria, which has already closed its border with Lebanon several times as a punitive measure) and perhaps even more than this, because who can divine the soul of an injured and vengeful state.
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