Ten years ago, the Syrians left Lebanon

Friday 01/05/2015
Under a cloud of suspicion

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.