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05/03/2005 | An Israeli dispute on the Syrian question

Zvi Bar'el

With the exception of Syria, no country near Lebanon will be affected more than Israel by the historic process occurring in that country. Israel has almost no ability to influence the historic process in which the ideas of democracy are filtering into the Arab world.


The American approach, which the French and others have adopted in the wake of their disappointment with Syrian President Bashar Assad, asserts that above all else stands the desire for democracy in Lebanon, which will require the Syrian army to withdraw from that country. Afterward, the solutions to other problems will follow.

In Israel there are two main approaches. One, which originates in the security services, states that first the Hezbollah must be disarmed, and that is what will make it possible to impose democracy in Lebanon. If they start in the opposite order, Hezbollah will be the strongest and best armed group in Lebanon. Those who hold this opinion should be told that the chances of disarming Hezbollah - which is supported by Iran - are less than the chances of Israel disarming the settlers.

Those who are afraid of the Syrian army's withdrawal from Lebanon assert that its presence there provides stability. This statement conceals the fear that Israel will lose the Syrian "address" in Lebanon. Damascus is seen by Israel as responsible for what happens in Lebanon and from Lebanese territory, including Hezbollah's actions. On the basis of this assumption, Israel developed an entire security concept that will now have to be changed.

Some cite as an example the consent of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1976 to the entry of the Syrian army into Lebanon to stop its civil war, in which the Palestinians were involved. The difference is that at the time, Washington supported the entry of the Syrian army into Lebanon, and convinced Israel to agree to the step, which was designed to weaken Arafat's organization.

In addition, Rabin managed to set conditions, in the form of "red lines," for the Syrian presence in Lebanon. Some considered these "red lines," which included a banning of Syrian flights in the skies of Lebanon and of the deployment of ground-to-air missiles, an insufficient step, the proof being that afterward a war broke out in Lebanon.

The second approach originates in the Foreign Ministry, and its main feature is complete support for the UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which mandates Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Those adopting this approach rightly say that Israel must not oppose the democratic tendency that is penetrating the Arab world, a tendency that will reinforce Lebanon's independence.

The choice is not between the existence of stability in Lebanon and the existence of democracy and independence. The argument that Syria provides stability is groundless. On the contrary: Syria supports Palestinian terrorist organizations headquartered in Damascus that give orders for acts of murder in Israel and the undermining of the political process with the Palestinians, dispatches terrorists to Iraq, supplies Syrian rockets to Hezbollah and integrates the terror group into the Syrian army network - all these, in addition to negative cooperation with Iran, are undermining regional stability.

The conclusion is that despite the risks, Israel should support the democratic move in Lebanon, which requires Syrian withdrawal. The Lebanese people have matured, and with the assistance of others will be able to overcome the dangers of a new state of chaos in their country.

Israel must act so that the pressure on Damascus to end the cooperation with terror organizations will continue. All the interlocutors should be reminded that the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon must include the removal of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, dozens of whose officers are active in Lebanon. This subject has been shoved to the sidelines, and Israel must bring it up at every opportunity.

Haaretz (Israel)


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