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    Assad Is Telling Half of the Story

    Bachar Assad must understand that Syria has the greater role in improving bilateral relations

    Bashar Assad spoke in an unusually candid manner on Monday about his country’s somewhat erratic relations with neighboring Lebanon. The Syrian president suggested that while ties had recently improved, longstanding divisions among the Lebanese have put a “ceiling” on the further development of bilateral relations and prevented a full “return to normal.”

    Assad’s analysis of the situation, while accurate, represents only half of the story. Yes, the Lebanese have long demonstrated an almost innate inability to achieve unanimity, and yes, their divisions have negatively impacted Lebanon’s relationships with other countries, including Syria. But not all of the tensions and ruptures within the Lebanese polity are homegrown.

    Indeed, Assad, like his father Hafez Assad before him, has actively participated in creating a culture of divisiveness in Lebanon. During Syria’s nearly 30-year military presence in Lebanon, Damascus did seek to restore order and stability in the war-torn country; but at the same time, it was not afraid to employ divide-and-rule tactics whenever these suited its own interests.

    Throughout this period there was no shortage of examples of direct Syrian involvement in Lebanese crises. For instance, take Syria’s vacillating relations with Palestinian factions in Lebanon throughout this period: Damascus showed a propensity to initiate – and then cast aside – enmity and/or alliances with Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat in a manner that rivaled Walid Jumblatt’s notorious flip-flopping. Such maneuvering often fanned the flames of internal discord.

    Moreover, Syria’s extended military presence served to undermine Lebanon’s institutions of state, thereby helping to create the current situation in which normal political differences are not easily kept in check.

    Regardless of what has happened in the past, nearly everyone – including Bashar Assad – now recognizes that the future security and prosperity of both Syrians and Lebanese and depends heavily on the ability of their respective governments to correct their problematic relationship with each other.

    In this regard, Assad holds considerable influence. Instead of waiting for the ever-evasive Lebanese “unanimity” to emerge and kickstart the process of improving relations, he can initiate such a process himself. A goodwill initiative on his part could help restore faith among the Lebanese in Damascus’ respect for their country’s independence – and see them unite around calls to improve relations with Syria.

    Jamil MROUÉ
    The Daily Star

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