Syria’s Historic Blunder

The recent assassination of Lebanon’s highly regarded former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has brought a flurry of speculation regarding the most likely perpetrators of his horrific death. Naturally, the first place to look is at those who benefit the most from his death. The highest on that list is the Baathist Syrian government which has been getting more and more pressure to leave Lebanon with a mounting opposition of moderates in Lebanon led by former Prime Minister Hariri. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting that a Kuwaiti newspaper, Al Sayassah, believes that the assassination was planned by Assef Shawkat, Assad’s brother-in-law. A plot thought possibly planned out of anger over the role Hariri played in the recent U.N resolutions telling Syria to pull out of Lebanon. The surviving Lebanese opposition leader Walid Jumblatt has since Hariri’s death become a lightning rod for the ousting of Syria and their puppet government from Lebanon. He quickly accused Syria of assassinating the former Prime Minister and said, “This is the regime of terrorists and terrorism that was able yesterday to wipe out Rafik al-Hariri … I charge the Lebanese-Syrian police regime with the responsibility for Hariri’s death.” The time is now for a continuation of the pressure to force Syria to exit Lebanon. This world pressure must also be directed at a higher order of magnitude of pressure upon the Assad regime to demonstrate genuine democratic reforms rather than the false platitudes he has instituted since his installation. The Assad regime is demonstrating that the despotic zebras running his dictatorship cannot change their stripes but are only rearranging the chairs on their Titanic. Already on Monday, in President Bush’s speech to the EU in Brussels he took the opportunity to focus on the Middle East and discuss his own “Road to Damascus” as the Times online notes. He quickly reminded Syria that the three-decade occupation of Lebanon must end. With international concern about Syria’s role in Iraq, with Hezbullah, and with Iran, the assassination of a leading Muslim moderate by Syrian intelligence (if true) in one of the few genuinely forward leaning Arab nations in the Middle East can only be interpreted as profoundly self-destructive, if not suicidal. Right after the assassination the U.S. ambassador was pulled from Syria. And the U.N. reminded Syria to pull out of Lebanon forthwith. Just the thought of Syrian regime complicity has turned the entire free world against the Assad regime in only one week. France and the U.S. now even agree. The only terror outreach to the Syrians last week came from Iran which is also diplomatically beleaguered and lonely with its own international isolation. Well, if not the Syrians, then who? How about al-Qaida? In a recent analysis, the liberty-minded Washington based think tank, the Saudi Institute pointed out the Saudi and al-Qaida connections of the possible perpetrators of the Hariri assassination. The operation had all the trademarks – a suicide bombing and a taped statement given to Al Jazeera. Ahmed Abo Adas’ taped statement stated that the Hariri killing is to avenge al-Qaida operatives killed by the Saudis. Adas was an Al-Zarqawi trainee. Cells of al-Qaida may be running to Lebanon and back to Syria after being slowly exterminated by the forces of freedom in Iraq. It makes sense that al-Qaida may have wanted to both eliminate a moderate Muslim leader like Hariri who threatens them the most while forcing Syria’s hand to become more embattled, less open, more militant, and more resistant to reform. Thus, in this assassination, al-Qaida would have made great headway in maintaining the dictatorial soil which fertilizes their cells and terrorism so well in Syria. Such is the goal of fanatical Islamists who know that their greatest enemies are Muslim moderates in Arab nations on their way to democracy. The days seem to be numbered for the Syrian regime in Lebanon and soon thereafter possibly even in Damascus. Much like Eastern European nations fell one after the other as the world turned its attention to the Soviet puppet regimes, so too may the Baathist Syrians fall soon as the world begins to turn our attention to their despotism. This column first appeared online at the Arizona Republic at this link.