ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | The Case for Iran 18.2.05

The Case for Iran

18 February 2005

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Everyone is accusing Syria in the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri. The Lebanese themselves and the Americans are leading the charge as anti-Syrian demonstrations broke out in Beirut and the US recalled its ambassador from Damascus. Syria invaded Lebanon in January 1976 in the middle of that country's civil war in an effort to prevent a Moslem/PLO victory and to implement the first step in the plan for Greater Syria (to include Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine (Israel). On the local level the late Syrian president Hafez el-Assad believed in "divide and conquer" as he later sent his forces to help the Moslems to prevent a Christian victory. The virtual annexation of Lebanon was seen as his stepping stone to greater influence in the Middle East.

For almost 30 years Syria dominated the Lebanese political scene, mainly through use of its armed forces. Today only a rump 15,000 troops remain. When the civil war ended in 1990, the self made Sunni Moslem billionaire Rafik Hariri rebuilt much of the country with his own funds and in the last few years challenged the Syrians, demanding they withdraw their forces. Not only did he become prime minister, but he resigned his post when the Syrians interfered in Lebanese politics and awarded puppet President Emile Lahoud an extra three years in office. With elections looming in May, Hariri was set for a comeback, only to be assassinated this week.

It makes perfect sense to blame Syria. On the surface Damascus has every reason to wipe out Hariri and anyone else who challenges their authority. But the Syrians are not stupid, have too much at stake and know such a blatant move would only bring more world pressures down on their heads. The Syrian economy is in a shambles, they have 100,000s (some estimates go as high as a million) guest workers in Lebanon and the Beirut-Damascus highway serves as their main trade outlet by helping them circumvent embargoes by western nations. Such an "in your face" move challenges the West, Lebanon and much of the Arab world and is something not to be done when in a position of weakness.

Although Syria is still the main suspect, the case must be made for Iranian involvement. Hariri was more secular than not, reconstructed Lebanon and therefore can be considered an advocate of peace. Furthermore, his demands for a Syrian withdrawal would mean the eventual end of pro-Iranian Hizbollah rule (and threat to Israel) in south Lebanon. Due to Iran's development of nuclear weapons and the negotiations with the EU to halt their program Tehran knows the West would not accuse them of involvement in the murder which they would use as an excuse to scuttle the talks.

Secondly, knowing Syrian weaknesses, Tehran fears Damascus could seek an opening to the West should Hariri gain political prominence again. Despite the Syrian-Iranian alliance, the ayatollah regime is suspicious of the secular Ba'ath Arab nationalism which is constantly being urged to take two steps in the direction of Egypt, Jordan and even the Palestinians (under Abu Mazen) and finally come out of the cold. Close down a few terrorist offices in Damascus and the West will begin pressuring Israel into a peace deal. Assad and his clique would remain in power without democracy, provided they moved into the anti-terror camp. As of late this was an option.

Facing an overt western diplomatic onslaught the Syrians cannot back down and must remain in the Iranian camp. And they certainly cannot accuse Tehran of the attack. This week's assassination forces them closer to the Iranians who desperately need two fronts against Iraq if they stand any chance of undermining US policy in Baghdad. Tehran is the only winner in the violent death of Rafik Hariri.