Ten years ago, the Syrians left Lebanon
Beirut - Syria has always had its eye on Lebanon. Since both countries obtained independence from France shortly after World War II, Syria refused to recognise Lebanon as a sovereign nation. Damascus, for example, never wanted to establish an embassy or even a consulate in Beirut, claiming that the Syrian and Lebanese people were too close to have the need of diplomatic legations.
And since independence Syria has continuously meddled in Lebanese politics, vetoing certain candidates.
So when the opportunity arose during the Lebanese civil war to send troops into Lebanon, at the request of the Lebanese Christian militias, no less, Syria jumped at the chance and stayed and stayed and stayed. Thirty-nine years of occupation.
Ten years ago, the Syrians left Lebanon but only after large numbers of protesters took to the streets and international pressure from all angles for Damascus to recall its troops.
The protests began after the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Accusing fingers pointed to Damascus and eventually Syria withdrew its military forces but left behind a battalion of secret police and intelligence officers working for Damascus.
Syria’s role in Lebanon changed continuously. Initially the Syrians went in at the request of the Christians who felt they were losing the war to the Muslims and their Palestinian allies in the early days of the civil war. The first confrontation involving the Syrian “peacekeepers” soon took place between the Syrian Army and the Palestinian resistance in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon.
However, as was expected, it was not long before the fragile alliance between the Christians and the Syrians changed and the Syrians switched sides and started bombing the very people they were to safeguard in the first place.
The Syrian occupation of Lebanon was a difficult time with residential areas on both sides of the capital coming under artillery and rocket fire at various times.
By the 39th year Syria had long overstayed its welcome. Popular protests brought massive numbers of Lebanese to the streets in peaceful demonstrations demanding Syria’s withdrawal. At the same time pressures from the international community, including the United States and the European Union, demanded an immediate withdrawal from Lebanon, which finally took place on April 30, 2005.
Ironically, today if President Bashar Assad is able to remain in power it is largely thanks to the Lebanese Shia militia, Hezbollah, which sent thousands of its young men to fight and die to keep the Syrian regime in place.
One would have hoped that the Lebanese civil war could have served as a lesson to the rest of the region on how not to proceed but no one was listening, no one was looking. The Lebanese conflict served as a dry run for what is happening in the rest of the region today.