May 24, 2010 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 611

Syria Reimposes Its Patronage over Lebanon

May 24, 2010 | By H. Varulkar and N. Mozes*
Lebanon, Syria | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 611


"...[Syria's] political return to Lebanon is taking place slowly but surely, by means of its allies in [this country], whose numbers are growing and whose voice is becoming stronger. It is regaining its influence [over Lebanon] quietly and without military [force], placing more [emphasis] on diplomacy than it did in the past..."[1]

Thus columnist Emil Khouri described the reality in Lebanon in Al-Nahar, a Lebanese daily which is close to the March 14 Forces.

Five years after a Western-Arab-Lebanese front emerged to oppose Syria's presence in Lebanon, forcing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to withdraw the military and security forces that had been there since 1976 and had provided the military backing for Syria's control of Lebanon, Syria seems to be regaining its control over Lebanon. This is coming about with the backing – or at least with the acquiescence – of the very forces that five years ago led the campaign for the Syrian withdrawal.

While as of this writing Syria has not redeployed its army in Lebanon, its return to the country seems to be taking place not quite as Khouri describes – that is, not strictly by diplomatic means – but as Ghassan Sa'ud, columnist for the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar writes: "Syria is reorganizing its affairs [in Lebanon], drawing a clear line between those who are with it and those who are against it, leaving no room to maneuver."[2]

In this endeavor, Syria is proceeding gradually, keeping an eye on the reactions in Lebanon and outside it. Syrian officials, headed by President Assad himself, are careful to declare their support for, and recognition of, Lebanon's sovereignty and independence, citing as evidence the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between the countries. However, these statements and measures appear to be mere formalities, to allay the fears of those who oppose the return of Syria's patronage over Lebanon. In practice, Syria is setting an increasing number of conditions and demands for its opponents in Lebanon, and for various regional and international elements, with the aim of consolidating its control over the country. For example, the pro-Syrian Al-Akhbar reported recently that Syria is demanding that Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri reaffirm agreements that the two countries signed during the period of Syria's patronage over Lebanon,[3] thus bringing back the situation that prevailed prior to the 2005 Syrian military withdrawal.

Recently, Syria has stepped up the pace of its return to Lebanon, as its confidence increases due to greater international openness towards it during this past year, and the international community's tacit consent to its involvement in Lebanon.[4] Other possible factors in the acceleration of its activity in Lebanon are the increasing tension between Syria and Israel, the anticipation of an imminent international decision on Iran's nuclear dossier, and the release of the International Criminal Court's (ICC) conclusions on the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.

This paper will review how Syria is reclaiming its patronage over Lebanon.

Reversing the Results of Lebanon's Parliamentary Election

The March 14 Forces camp formed following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri. As the standard-bearer against the involvement of Syria and its allies – primarily Hizbullah – in Lebanon, it drew strength from two main elements: support at home in Lebanon, as manifested by the camp's win in two parliamentary elections in a row, and support from without, headed by Saudi Arabia, France, and the U.S.

The domestic support expressed more than anything else the bitterness and disgust in Lebanon at the Syrian presence in the country, refuting Syria's claim that its presence in Lebanon was legitimate and was strictly at the request of the Lebanese. The camp's foreign support provided it with the backing it needed vis-à-vis Hizbullah and Syria.

Today, less than a year after its win in the parliamentary elections, the camp seems weak and fractured, while the March 8 opposition camp, which is headed by Hizbullah and close to Syria, appears to be stronger than ever. Recently, voices have even emerged among the latter camp calling for essential change in the composition of the government, in light of the purported shift in the balance of power in Lebanon and in the region. In his column in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the March 8 forces, Fida 'Itani described how these forces understand the situation in the region and in Lebanon today, and why, despite their electoral defeat, they sense that it is they who have the power: "The day the Lebanese parliamentary elections were over, with the opposition defeated, the Saudi monarch did not visit Syria; neither did Sa'd Al-Hariri in his capacity as prime minister, nor [Lebanese Druze leader] Walid Jumblatt… The day the Lebanese elections were over, the Syria-Saudi deal on the allocation [of influence] in Iraq did not reach fruition. [Since then, things have changed;] today, the deal is in its final stages [and all these leaders have visited Syria]..."

He added that the international and regional demand that Syria deal with the purported terrorism and the control of the Palestinian weapons within and outside the refugee camps enables Syria to demand the establishment of a Lebanese government work team that will be to its liking and be loyal to it.[5]

Saudi Acquiescence to Syria's Role in Lebanon

As Fida 'Itani explained, some of the change in the balance of internal power in Lebanon can be attributed to the change in Saudi policy towards Syria. At the January 2009 economic summit in Kuwait, Saudi King 'Abdallah presented a reconciliation initiative aimed at bringing the "moderate camp" and the "resistance camp" in the Arab world closer together. In the framework of this initiative, Saudi Arabia and Syria arrived at understandings on Lebanon, which in effect meant Saudi recognition of the Syrian role in Lebanon. This was shown in an article by Turki Al-Sudeiri, editor of the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh, titled "Why Shouldn't Lebanon Go Back to Syria?"[6] These understandings included agreement, reached prior to the Lebanese parliamentary elections, on the establishment of a national unity government in Lebanon. This in effect stripped the winning camp of the ability to establish a majority government, and took away its bargaining chips vis-à-vis the March 8 Forces, Syria's allies.

During the discussions on the formation of the government, the March 14 Forces, headed by Sa'd Al-Hariri, were forced to comply with many March 8 Forces' demands; also, under March 8 and Syrian pressure, they had to back down on issues that were an essential part of their platform. This reflected the de facto victory of the March 8 Forces, even though in the elections they had come out the losers.[7]

The Syrian-Saudi understandings on Lebanon yielded additional gains for Syria:

· Friction and disputes between Sa'd Al-Hariri and his allies, and the weakening of the March 14 camp, because of the concessions that Al-Hariri was forced to make to the March 8 camp in order to assure the formation of a government.

· The agreement to form a national Unity Government enabled Syria to ensure that its allies would be part of the government, without having to intervene in their favor in the Lebanese elections.

This is not the first time that the Saudis have abandoned their allies in Lebanon to Syria and Hizbullah. On May 21, 2008, the Doha agreement was signed in Qatar, under Arab sponsorship; it was aimed at ending the violent conflicts between Hizbullah and the March 14 Forces that broke out May 7, 2008. The agreement expressed the March 14 Forces' absolute submission to Hizbullah's demands.

According to various reports, Syria is continuing to take advantage of the understandings with Saudi Arabia, for instance in order to continue pressuring Al-Hariri to comply with its demands. As part of this, Saudi Arabia has stopped the flow of funds to Al-Hariri, and has clarified to members of his Al-Mustaqbal faction that it is serious in its reconciliation with Syria, and that there is to be no argument about it.[8]

However, it appears that these moves by Saudi Arabia are not enough for Syria, which used the Lebanese media outlets close to it to express its displeasure and to pose further demands to Saudi Arabia. Ibrahim Al-Amin, editor of the Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily, known to be close to the Syrian regime, reported on a freeze in Syrian-Saudi relations, and accused Saudi Arabia of not honoring its commitments towards Syria in Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine, while Syria had aided Saudi Arabia in finding a solution to the problem of the Houthis and in obtaining Sa'd Al-Hariri's appointment as Lebanese prime minister. Al-Amin even stated that Saudi Arabia had recently played a "loathsome role" as an ally of Israel in the Arab world.[9]

Further evidence of the tension between Syria and Saudi Arabia was a column by Sarkis Na'oum in the Lebanese Al-Nahar daily, which is close to the March 14 Forces. Na'oum quoted sources close to Syria as saying that contrary to its commitments, Saudi Arabia was continuing to financially support elements in the March 14 Forces [that is, Lebanese Forces party leader Samir Geagea] who were attacking Syria and its Lebanese allies, and was not acting forcefully enough to persuade elements in the Al-Mustaqbal faction to adopt a pro-Syrian stance. Other criticism of Saudi Arabia concerned its role in the inter-Palestinian reconciliation and in the Egypt-Syria reconciliation.[10] This criticism of Saudi Arabia shows that Syria expects a high return for its meager aid to Saudi Arabia in several matters.

Several days after the publication of this criticism, Saudi Prince 'Abd Al'-Aziz bin Abdallah arrived in Damascus and handed Assad a letter from his father King 'Abdallah, in an attempt to settle the dispute between the two countries. The Saudi government daily Al-Madina wrote that the visit concerned "Israel's threats to the countries of the region" and that Syria and Saudi Arabia had agreed on the need to strengthen Arab unity.[11]

'Abdallah Nasser Al-'Otaibi, columnist for the Saudi London daily Al-Hayat, negated Al-Madina's conciliatory tone, writing that Saudi Arabia had not needed Syria's help in the war on the Houthis, or in the appointment of Sa'd Al-Hariri, who after all had been elected by democratic process. He added that it was Syria's connection with Iran that was the cause of the tension between Syria and the Arab countries, and that Syria was fomenting crises in order to accomplish its goals, as it had not managed to do so by political means.[12]

Shifting the Balance of Power in the Lebanese Parliament

Along with weakening Saudi support for the March 14 Forces, Syria was acting to eliminate the Forces' parliamentary majority by causing one of their key elements to become a Syria ally.

Up until 2008, Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt had been the loudest and most outspoken voice in the March 14 Forces against Hizbullah, against Syrian involvement in Lebanon, and against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad,[13] and had even called on the U.S. to intervene militarily in Syria.

The change in Jumblatt's stance towards Syria and towards Hizbullah came after Hizbullah's violent show of force on May 7, 2008, involving armed clashes between it and the Druze in the Mt. Lebanon region. This made it clear to Jumblatt that the March 8 Forces, and primarily the Shi'ites led by Hizbullah, had a clear military and demographic advantage over the March 14 Forces, and that if he wanted to assure the survival of the Druze and of himself personally, he needed to join the latter.[14]

Jumblatt's abandonment of the March 14 Forces, and his de facto joining of the March 8 Forces, was gradual. He ran for Lebanese parliament in the June 2009 elections as part of the March 14 Forces, but two months later, on August 2, 2009, announced that he could no longer be part of this alliance, and attacked it harshly. At the same time, he declared that he would continue to support March 14 Forces leader Sa'd Al-Hariri, and said that he had not joined the March 8 camp, but had moved to the center. However, on August 7, 2009, in an interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Safir he praised Syria and its president, as well as Hizbullah and Iran, making it perfectly clear where he was headed.[15]

Syria, for its part, did not make it easy for Jumblatt to return to its fold. For two months, it repeatedly put off his reconciliation visit to Damascus, and Jumblatt was forced to publicly apologize for insulting the Syrian president and the Syrian people, and to prove to all that he was turning his back on his allies in the March 14 camp.[16] According to various reports, Damascus even demanded that Jumblatt step down in favor of his son Timor, who more clearly favors the March 8 Forces, and had criticized his father's membership in the March 14 Forces.[17]

Jumblatt's abandonment of the March 14 camp was essential for Syria, because it eliminated the March 14 camp's parliamentary majority, and undermined the Al-Hariri government. It also enabled the March 8 elements to claim that the current government did not reflect the real balance of power in the parliament, and that its composition should be adjusted accordingly.

The Subordination of Lebanese Governmental Institutions to Syrian Authority

The March 14 Forces' loss of Saudi support and their parliamentary majority has enabled Syria to exert greater pressure on Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri and President Michel Suleiman to meet its demands. Over the past year, Syria has used both direct and indirect means to drive the two closer to the March 8 camp and to compel them to take up a Syrian agenda. Al-Akhbar columnist Nicolas Nassif wrote that Syria was demanding "absolute loyalty" from Lebanon, and that the latter recognize its status as the weaker nation and also recognize that it could not expect Syria to reciprocate for concessions Lebanon had made.[18]

Syria Patronizes Sa'd Al-Hariri

The understandings on Lebanon reached by Saudi Arabia, Sa'd Al-Hariri's main supporter, with Syria made it clear to Al-Hariri that his relationship with Syria would have to be altogether different from that of his predecessor Fuad Al-Seniora – which was openly hostile and nearly non-existent. Al-Hariri grasped the ramifications of these fractured relations for his government's ability to function, and also grasped the need to establish a different kind of relationship with Syria.

Early in his term, Al-Hariri began preparing the ground for renewed relations with Syria. Among other things, he ordered his party-members, despite objections by many of them, to support the introduction of a clause in the government's basic principles recognizing Hizbullah's right to act as a resistance force and to use weapons. Also, a change was made to the clause on Lebanon-Syria relations, adding the word "brotherhood" and replacing the word "nidiyya," denoting the March 14 Forces' demand for equal status between the countries, with the word "masawa," which denotes, in Lebanon's political jargon, a lesser degree of equality.

A month and a half after the establishment of Al-Hariri's government, on December 19-20, 2009, Al-Hariri visited Damascus, accompanied by the head of his office Nader Al-Hariri. The visit expressed Al-Hariri's recognition of Syria's status in Lebanon, and also that Al-Hariri was backing down from his claims regarding Syria's responsibility for the assassination of his father.

Al-Hariri received a grand reception in Damascus, while the Syrian media highlighted the great honor the Syrian president showed him as his special guest – an honor usually reserved for Hizbullah leader Nasrallah and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun,[19] who are Syria's allies in Lebanon and lack an official government position. Also emphasized by the media was Syria's "generosity" and that the trip signified a settling of "mutual" accounts and the turning over of a new leaf in Syria-Lebanon relations. Al-Akhbar columnist Nicolas Nassif wrote that Syria viewed the visit as the righting of a serious wrong committed by Al-Hariri and his people, and not as a concession on their part.[20]

During the visit, the Syrians hinted that Al-Hariri needed to rein in the anti-Syrian discourse among his allies and in the Lebanese media that he owns.[21] The Syrian media also emphasized the personal aspect of the visit, and the relationship between the leaders as a basis for future bilateral relations.[22] This would seem indicative of Syria's approach to its relations with Lebanon – not as one state versus another, but as a state versus individuals and groups. This became all the more clear when Al-Hariri and his supporters maintained that the trip had been of a formal nature and that Al-Hariri had visited Syria as prime minister, rather than as an individual. Syria, while expressing its desire for establishing relations with Lebanese state institutions, stressed the need for personal trust between the countries' leaders.[23]

Renewed Syrian Pressure on Al-Hariri

The warm regard Al-Hariri was shown in Damascus was to be short-lived. Some two months after the visit, Lebanese papers close to the March 8 Forces and to Syria began attacking Al-Hariri for failing to act as prime minister, and assessed that his government would not last long.[24] At the same time, it was reported that Syria was dissatisfied with Al-Hariri's performance, primarily against the backdrop of his loyalty to his allies, especially Lebanese Forces party leader Samir Geagea.

Lebanese MP Suleiman Faranjia, who is close to Syrian President Assad, clarified that Syria wished for Al-Hariri to sever ties with his allies. He said, "Today, Prime Minister S'ad Al-Hariri [maintains relations] with both Syria and his allies, but the time will come when he will be forced to choose [between them]..."[25] It would seem that Syria intends to cut Al-Hariri off from his power base and from his supporters, thereby increasing his dependence on Syria and those loyal to Syria.

Syria claimed that despite its repeated demands, Al-Hariri had not reined in the anti-Syrian discourse among his allies in the March 14 Forces and in his media. For instance, Syria disapproved of the roster of speakers selected for the fifth anniversary of Rafiq Al-Hariri's assassination, as well as of the statements they made.[26] Syria also criticized Al-Hariri's official representatives' participation in a rally held by Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces party at which anti-Syrian statements were made.[27] Al-Akhbar claimed that Al-Hariri was ashamed of his relationship with Syria, and that he was acting as though Syria was his secret mistress.[28]

Syria's anger with Al-Hariri was exacerbated by an interview he gave to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, in which, according to the newspaper, he equated Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's treatment of Kuwait to Syria-Lebanon relations under Hafez Al-Assad – that is, relations between conqueror and conquered.[29] The editor of the Syrian website Champress wrote that "Al-Hariri's statements to the Italian press were unwise, and reflected the crisis he is in..."[30]

Al-Hariri was quick to respond to these criticisms by apologizing and expressing his determination to build a trusting relationship with Syria, especially with President Assad, whom he even phoned in order to clear the air.[31] The Syrian leadership rejected the apology, saying they "expected actions that would prove good intent and not just words."[32] Al-Hariri apologized again on several additional occasions, saying that his statements had been taken out of context, and continued to stress the importance of the personal relationship between President Assad and himself, and of relations between the two countries in general.[33] Syria's criticism of Al-Hariri likewise continued, even in the form of threats to overthrow his government. The daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the Syrian regime, wrote that Al-Hariri was "a young man who made it to power without any management or leadership abilities... Had it not been for the resolve of several states in the region [i.e. Saudi Arabia] to ensure Lebanon's stability, his government would have fallen the day after its first assembly."[34]

Syria leveled further criticisms at Al-Hariri over his meetings with former French President Jacques Chirac and with Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the implementation of resolution 1559, both of whom are viewed by Syria as bitter enemies.[35] The Lebanese prime minister was also criticized for his relations with the U.S., which Syria claimed were an extension of steps taken by former prime minister Fuad Al-Siniora to enable U.S. involvement in Lebanon.[36]

Syria alleged further that, in his performance as prime minister, Al-Hariri had failed to fulfill agreements which had been reached during his visit to Damascus, and that he was not following the schedule that had been set to address bilateral concerns.

Furthermore, the daily Al-Akhbar reported that Syria was angry over Al-Hariri's request for assistance from Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mash'al in dealing with issue of Palestinian armament outside the refugee camps. Syria, the daily claimed, viewed this measure as an expression of doubt over President Assad's pledge to address the matter.[37] Syria was quick to respond to the episode, which it apparently regarded as an attempt by Al-Hariri to resolve the issue behind Assad's back, thereby trumping one of the cards Syria could play to ensure its control over Lebanon. Abu Moussa, secretary-general of Syria's ally Fatah-Intifada, declared that his organization opposed the disarmament of Palestinians outside the refugee camps,[38] a signal to Al-Hariri from Syria that the issue could not be resolved without its intervention.[39] According to a number of reports that appeared in the Lebanese press close to Syria, Assad even chided Al-Hariri several times over his government's performance and for anti-Syrian statements made by the prime minister's allies.[40]

Before Al-Hariri's Second Visit, Syria Increases Its Demands

The preparations for Al-Hariri's second visit to Syria and its numerous delays provide insight into the tensions between Syria and Al-Hariri and the intense pressure the latter has been exerting on him. Plans to send a technical delegation in advance of the Lebanese prime minister were put off, with Syria claiming that the delegation lacked authority and that its members were of a lower rank than had been previously agreed. A new date was set for the delegation only after a conversation between Al-Hariri and Syrian Prime Minister Naji 'Otri in which the former apologized for his error and promised to send delegates of a higher rank.[41]

Al-Hariri's second visit to Syria was to be of particular importance in that it would focus on political issues related to Lebanese sovereignty, in contrast to the first visit, which was characterized by gestures and ceremonies.[42] According to various reports, matters which were to be addressed included the status of Hizbullah and its arms; the appointment of persons close to Syria to positions in the upper echelon of Lebanese defense; Lebanese foreign diplomacy; the overseeing of Palestinian refugee camps; and cooperation with the International Court of Justice for Rafiq Al-Hariri's assassination.[43]

Syria made clear to Al-Hariri both its expectations that he would cooperate in full in these matters and adopt the Syrian agenda, and the price he could expect if he did otherwise. The daily Al-Akhbar warned that, as the prime minister and his colleagues well knew, the visit was to decide the fate of Al-Hariri's government, and that if any new rifts were to open in his relations with Damascus they would be difficult to mend.[44]

On May 11, 2010, the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Al-Safir reported that Al-Hariri was scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama in the U.S. sometime that month.[45] Two days later, on May 13, 2010, the daily put out an article explaining to the prime minister "the necessity of coordinating his visit to the U.S. with the Syrian leadership" prior to the trip. The daily went on to claim that Lebanon was obligated to coordinate its foreign policy with Syria, saying that "the most important thing to Syria in its relations with Lebanon is Lebanon's foreign policy, especially regarding the conflict with Israel." It even hinted to Al-Hariri that he should visit Syria before the U.S., or else his "visit in Damascus will be postponed until after the visit to Washington, or perhaps even longer."[46]

On May 18, 2010, Al-Hariri arrived in Damascus with the head of his office Nader Al-Hariri, and met privately with President Assad. According to the daily Al-Akhbar, Assad informed Al-Hariri of Syria's positions vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear dossier, the peace process, and the resistance. Al-Hariri, on his part, promised Assad that he would represent the "Arab discourse" in his upcoming meetings in the White House and the U.N. Security Council, apparently having internalized Syria's message.

During the meeting, Al-Hariri was chided for not having implemented understandings that had been reached in regard to the reassessment of bilateral agreements. Al-Hariri replied in his defense that he had been unaware of the extent of the dossiers he had been expected to prepare. The Syrian president's criticisms of Al-Hariri's performance were also mentioned in a meeting between President Assad's political advisor, Buthayna Sha'ban, and Nader Al-Hariri.[47]

Other indications of Al-Hariri's capitulation to Syrian pressure can be found in various reports to the effect that he has given instructions to the media in his ownership to desist from attacks on Syria, even threatening to dismiss anyone who disobeyed.[48] Over the past year, moreover, the Lebanese prime minister has changed his overall tone towards Syria and its allies in Lebanon. In an interview for the Qatari daily Al-Watan, the prime minister exalted his personal relationship with President Assad, and ardently stressed the significance of the Syrian-Lebanese Supreme Council, which is a means of implementing Syria's patronage of Lebanon and which the March 14 Forces wish to dismantle. He also said that Syria represented a nexus for financial and commercial ties between Lebanon and other Arab states, insisting that Lebanon-Syria relations be "mended" rather than "normalized," as his party, the March 14 Forces, required. The prime minister went on to defend Hizbullah, advising them to disregard the latest Israeli claims regarding the transfer of Scud missiles from Syria to the organization. Al-Hariri even defended Iran against claims about its interference in Lebanese affairs,[49] thus denying allegations made by Samir Geagea, a fellow party member in the March 14 Forces, that Iran and Syria were using Hizbullah to draw Lebanon into confrontations that were not in its own interest.[50]

However, there are still two central issues over which Al-Hariri has refused to compromise, despite Syrian pressure:

1. Loyalty to his ally, Samir Geagea. Al-Hariri has said that only death would separate them[51] and defended Geagea's right to raise the debate over Hizbullah's arms.[52]

2. The disarmament of Palestinians outside the refugee camps, according to the Lebanese National Dialogue Round resolutions.[53]

Syrian Pressures on Lebanese President Michel Suleiman

In parallel to the attack on Sa'd Al-Hariri, Syria's allies and the Syria-affiliated media in Lebanon applied ongoing pressure to Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, in an attempt to undermine his efforts to position himself as an agreed-upon and neutral president who seeks to lead an independent policy. With this attack on Suleiman, Syria wants to clarify to him that he must express absolute support for Hizbullah, for the Lebanese opposition, and for Syria, and in effect, that he must take up the mantle of his predecessor Emil Lahoud, who both supported Syria and did its bidding.

It should be noted that this is not the first time Syria has attacked Suleiman. In December 2008 and December 2009, after he took measures and adopted positions that were not to the liking of Syria and its allies, Syria and the Lebanese opposition acted to undermine his status and to empower their crony Michel Aoun.[54]

Attack on Suleiman's Independent Positions

The attack on Suleiman immediately followed his February 28, 2010 declaration of the renewal of the National Dialogue meetings dealing with the drawing up of a defense strategy for the country and with the fate of Hizbullah's weapons.[55] Syria's allies were enraged because former Lebanese president Emil Lahoud and former Lebanese prime minister Omar Karameh were not included among the new dialogue members chosen by Suleiman.[56] However, it appears that the real reason behind the attack was Syria's anger over his failure to consult with them before deciding to renew the National Dialogue, and especially over the timing of the announcement of the renewal – which came a few days after the Assad-Ahmadinejad-Nasrallah summit in Damascus.[57] Damascus viewed Suleiman's move as a challenge to the summit and to Nasrallah's participation in it representing Lebanon,[58] and as harming Syria's and Hizbullah's interests by putting the issue of Hizbullah's weapons back on the agenda both within Lebanon and outside it.[59]

Pro-Syrian Lebanese Former Minister: Suleiman Must Step Down

Wiam Wahhab, a former Syrian minister who is close to the Syrian leadership, attacked Suleiman with unprecedented vehemence, calling on him to step down. Wahhab accused Suleiman of trying to depict himself as a president agreed upon by all the political elements in Lebanon, and said that for this reason Suleiman was avoiding taking any firm stance on controversial issues, such as Hizbullah's weapons.

At a press conference that he convened at the residence of Free Patriotic Movement chairman Michel Aoun, Wahhab said: "...There is a major flaw in the [institution of ] the presidency, and it is the main [cause] of the paralysis that is gripping the country. We sense an absence of a strong presidential [institution] and a strong president. The perception of a president agreed upon [by all the elements] has failed, leading to a dead end. Perhaps this solved a problem in the past two years, but from this point forward it is thwarts the running of affairs more than facilitates it...

"The president is above all institutions, and he must oversee appointments and [stop] corruption and inefficiency. If he can no longer do so, it is best that he step down. It is inconceivable that he is in the second year of his term but [acting as though] it is the final 10 days [of his term]. This situation has greatly paralyzed the country, particularly because Prime Minister [Sa'd Al-Hariri], with all our love and respect for him, lacks experience in power, and has not yet managed to really take off in running the state...

"I do not support a president who calls himself agreed-upon or who has no opinion vis-à-vis anything that is happening, and remains neutral. No senior official can remain neutral regarding everything that is going on; he must have a clear position on everything..."[60]

Other Lebanese officials known to be close to Syria joined in these statements, [61] which were interpreted in Lebanon as criticism of Suleiman's functioning by the Syrian regime.[62]

Pro-Syrian Daily Al-Akhbar: Suleiman Has Nearly Crossed Red Line

As it was in the case of Al-Hariri, the Lebanese pro-Syrian daily Al-Akhbar led the attack on Suleiman, and was the first to reveal the crisis in his relations with Syria. An article criticizing Suleiman, that marked the high point of the attack on him, stated that he was serving the March 14 Forces and was completely affiliated with them, and was working against the Lebanese opposition, led by Hizbullah.

The article stated: "[Lebanon's political] salons are once again talking of the need to examine the idea raised by Michel Aoun [prior to Suleiman's election in 2008] – to elect [him] for a two-year term..."[63] It added that Suleiman had almost crossed the red line yet again, by speaking negatively about Hizbullah, in private conversations with the president of a certain European country and in other meetings. The article stated that Suleiman had made a mistake by convening the National Dialogue at a time when the issue of Hizbullah's weapons had almost disappeared from the political discourse, and by not including certain allies of Syria among its members. It quoted a Lebanese opposition element as saying that "Suleiman's tongue is in Syria but his heart is in Washington and Riyadh."[64]

Another article in the paper stated that Suleiman was acting ungratefully towards Syria, considering that he owed his appointment as president to this country.[65]

Suleiman Forced to Provide Explanations to Syria's Ambassador in Lebanon

On March 23, 2010, President Suleiman held an hour-long meeting at his residence with the Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon 'Ali 'Abd Al-Karim. Although the meeting was presented by the Lebanese and Arab media as "an expression of Syrian support for Suleiman," and although the ambassador denied claims that Syria was behind the attack on Suleiman, it appeared that in it Suleiman was compelled to explain to the ambassador the reasons for several measures he took of which Syria disapproved.[66]

The Al-Akhbar daily reported that Suleiman was asked to explain his timing for announcing the renewal of National Dialogue meetings, to clarify that his doing so had no connection to the tripartite Damascus summit,[67] and to explain why a line defining Hizbullah's activity as legitimate resistance was omitted from the concluding statement of the first meeting which took place March 9, 2010. With regard to the latter, Suleiman blamed the March 14 Forces representatives for the omission,[68] and stressed that he supported the resistance against the occupation and believed it should continue.[69]

Around the same time as the meeting with the Syrian ambassador, Suleiman sent Lebanese general security director-general Wafiq Jazini to meetings with Wiam Wahhab, in which Wahhab criticized Suleiman's renewal of the National Dialogue, his foreign policy, and his vague positions on the resistance and on relations with Syria. Wahhab clarified to Jazini that Suleiman must take clear stances on these matters, and must show his practical support for Syria and Hizbullah.[70]

Syria's Pressure Bears Fruit – Suleiman Backs Down

Fully grasping Syria's messages, Suleiman began to praise both it and the resistance. In an interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Safir, he clarified that he now understood the power relations between him and President Al-Assad: "...When President Bashar [Al-Assad] tells me something, I [accept it], and don't have to think that anything is hidden beyond it..." He added that there was complete and ongoing understanding between him and President Assad, and noted that he consulted with him on many matters concerning Lebanon and Syria.

During the interview, Suleiman called Assad "a highly credible individual" who was "characterized by generosity and lofty values." Referring to Hizbullah, he said: "We will protect the resistance [Hizbullah] like the apple of our eye. We need it, and we still have a pressing need for it."[71]

Further evidence of Suleiman's volte-face came when he rescinded Lebanese Minister Ibrahim Najjar's status as his official representative to a ceremony held by Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces party, to protest against anti-Syrian statements by some of the speakers at the ceremony.[72]

Syria Consolidates Nasrallah's Status as Its Man in Lebanon

The Syria-Hizbullah alliance began in the era of President Hafez Al-Assad. Upon taking office, his son President Bashar Al-Assad took care to cultivate and tighten these ties, due to the strategic importance he attributed to Hizbullah as the first line of defense against Israel.[73]

Last year, around the same time that Syria was making efforts to topple the March 14 Forces and to bring Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri and President Michel Suleiman under its authority, it was also acting to strengthen Hizbullah's status and to turn it into its link with elements in Lebanon. Nicolas Nassif, columnist for Al-Akhbar, wrote: "Nasrallah has proven his status as Syria's key in Lebanon and as Lebanon's key in Syria. His influence over Syrian decisions regarding Lebanon's affairs is like his influence over Lebanon's decisions concerning Syria..."[74]

Nassif reached this conclusion following the Damascus tripartite summit of Assad, Ahmadinejad, and Nasrallah, and after Nasrallah played a role in bringing Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt back to the Syrian fold.

The Assad-Ahmadinejad-Nasrallah Summit

On February 25, 2010, an unusual tripartite summit took place, with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah. At a press conference held by the two presidents, they declared the upcoming defeat of their enemies, and issued aggressive and provocative declarations against the U.S. and Israel.[75]

There was nothing new in this visit or in these statements; both presidents customarily visit each other, as part of the strategic relations between their countries, and during these visits they customarily make similar declarations.[76] What was new at this summit was Hizbullah leader Nasrallah's open participation, which brought to light Syria's attitude towards Lebanon and its institutions:

· The content aspect: The Arab press described the meeting as a "war council," in which the modus operandi was laid out and tasks and missions were distributed in the event of an Israeli attack on any one element, or on all three.[77] That is, Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah drew up a strategy for a war with Israel – a war that would doubtless have consequences for Lebanon – without consulting any of Lebanon's elected institutions – first and foremost among them those headed by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri.

· The formal aspect: Nasrallah's participation in the summit as Lebanon's representative alongside the presidents of Syria and Iran shows the high status accorded him by the two leaders, as well as their desire to consolidate his status and that of his organization.

Syria and Iran see Nasrallah as the key leader in Lebanon, and do not consider Lebanon's elected government to be important. Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri referred to this, saying, "The Lebanese state is the Lebanese state. It is represented by President Michel Suleiman and by the prime minister. It is the government that determines its foreign and domestic policy... Hassan Nasrallah's presence in Damascus is [strictly] his [personal] business ..."[78]

It should be noted that following the 2006 war, the March 14 Forces harshly criticized Hizbullah for dragging Lebanon into a bloody conflict without obtaining the approval of, or even consulting with, the Lebanese government, which has the supreme authority to decide on matters of war and peace. Although this summit proves that Hizbullah is continuing to act in isolation from the state's institutions regarding the conflict with Israel, with the backing of Syria and Iran, this time almost no criticism was heard from Lebanon.

Syria Empowers Nasrallah to Mediate between It and Jumblatt

In the final stages of Walid Jumblatt's return to the Syrian fold, the pro-Syrian Lebanese press and the Syrian press published numerous reports stating that it was Nasrallah who had directed the reconciliation between Jumblatt and the Syrian president.

Al-Akhbar columnist Nicolas Nassif clarified that Assad had chosen Nasrallah as the sole mediator in the matter.[79] The Syrian daily Al-Watan reported that Assad had decided to allow Jumblatt to visit Syria only after mediation by Nasrallah, who "has the complete confidence of the Syrian leadership."[80]

It should be noted that Jumblatt obtained the information that Assad had agreed to receive him in Damascus from Hizbullah, and that Hizbullah was the one to release the news to the media.

This approach hints that Nasrallah is to serve as the link between the Syrian leadership and key figures in Lebanese politics, and thus will eventually enjoy the status of acting Lebanese prime minister, at least as far as Syria is concerned.

Bringing Back the Era of the Syrian Control of Lebanon

Establishing the Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation, and Coordination

The Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation, and Coordination, signed in 1991 by Syria and Lebanon and establishing special relations between the two, and the Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council, founded in accordance with the treaty, together with the Syrian military presence in Lebanon, were symbols of Syria's patronage over this country. Even after Syria's withdrawal of its military and security forces, Syria maintained the existence of these apparatuses (i.e., the treaty and the council), despite repeated demands by the March 14 Forces to either abolish or change them, and to establish diplomatic relations between the countries.

In October 2008, the two countries declared the establishment of diplomatic relations, but Syria still refused to abolish or change the treaty, and claimed that the work of the Syrian-Lebanese High Council's work did not conflict with the powers of the embassies.

In the past year, senior Syrian officials have expressed willingness to amend these apparatuses, but it appears that this willingness was aimed solely at appeasing the Lebanese and the regional and international elements supporting them. This was confirmed by President Assad's statements to the Lebanese delegation that participated in the Syria-Lebanon relations conference in April 2009 in Damascus. At the conference, he expressed willingness to abolish these apparatuses, if there was a Lebanese consensus for doing so – something that will never happen because of the strong Syrian allies in Lebanon who will always oppose such a move.[81]

Actually, the past year has seen an increase in the activity of the Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council, and of council secretary-general Nasri Khouri – despite the fact that the two countries now have embassies in each other's capitals. In a column on the subject, Nicolas Nassif clarified that there was no contradiction here, since the Syrians see the council as responsible for organizing and managing the relationship between the countries, i.e., as responsible for the political aspect, and the embassy as in charge of procedural aspects, such as citizen services and the like.[82] It was Khouri who informed Al-Hariri of Syria's displeasure at the level of the Lebanese technical delegation for making preparations for his second visit to Syria, and for Syria's decision to postpone the visit. In the same conversation, Khouri clarified to Al-Hariri that Syria would renew its relationship with him via the council's general secretariat, with the aim of arranging the delegation's visit.[83]

In advance of Al-Hariri's second visit to Syria, Syria acted to strengthen the legitimacy of the Treaty of Brotherhood and the Higher Council. Nicolas Nassif wrote: "[Syria expects to] confirm the legitimacy of the treaty and its spinoff agreements... [Syria expects] Al-Hariri to approve the agreements, which were signed when his father, Rafiq Al-Hariri, was prime minister, or whose signing was sponsored by [Rafiq Al-Hariri] in Damascus or in Beirut... All these agreements were drawn up during an era known as 'the era of Syrian patronage of Lebanon'..."

Nassif added that Syria had no intention of amending the treaty, which it considers a fundamental document setting out the relations between the countries, nor does it intend to amend the security and defense agreement.[84] In saying this, he contradicted reports in the Lebanese pro-Syrian press following Al-Hariri's first visit to Syria, which stated that Assad had agreed to amend whatever needed to be amended, or even to rescind some of the agreements.[85]

Former Syrian "High Commissioner" Rustum Ghazale Returns to Lebanon

Another indication of Syria's renewed patronage of Lebanon is the renewed involvement of Syrian and Lebanese security apparatus officials in the political ties between the two countries, as happened prior to the Syrian forces' exit from Lebanon. Particularly salient is the involvement of Rustum Ghazale in contacts between the countries; Ghazale headed Syria's security apparatus in Lebanon, as a sort of Syrian "high commissioner" in this country, until Syrian troops withdrew in 2005. His name was among those on the list of Syrian officials suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.

According to Lebanese press reports, Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri appointed 'Aqid Wisam Al-Hassan, head of the information branch of Lebanon's internal security forces, as his director of Lebanon's relations with the Syrian leadership. In the wake of the tension between Syria and Al-Hariri, Al-Hassan met in Syria with a Syrian official, in Ghazale's presence, to hear Syria's criticism of Al-Hariri; he promised to return a few days later to report what steps Al-Hariri had taken in response.[86] According to another report, Ghazale is also in charge of Lebanese Druze affairs in Syria.[87]

Syria Demands to Pick Key Lebanese Officials

In recent months, it was reported in Lebanon that Syria sought a reshuffle in the Lebanese security apparatuses and in the Lebanese government, so as to consolidate a Lebanese work team under its supervision that would carry out tasks such as fighting terrorism and resolving the issue of the Palestinian weapons outside the refugee camps. In his column in Al-Akhbar, Fida 'Itani supported this Syrian demand, stating that the Lebanese government must include proportional representation of all forces in Lebanon, especially in light of changes in the balance of power in the Lebanese parliament. He added that there was therefore no reason for "smaller elements to have representation in the government that is greater than their political weight and their number."[88] The upshot here is a Syrian attempt to remove Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces party from the government and to replace it with representatives of the March 8 camp.

One prominent example of determining key figures is Syria's wish "that coordination between the countries return to a maximal [level], particularly in light of the fact that Lebanon is today a non-permanent U.N. Security Council member."[89] Syria hopes to use this membership to advance its own interests. The Al-Akhbar daily reported that for this purpose, Syria had several times appealed to Lebanon to replace Lebanese U.N. delegation head Nawwaf Salem, who is not its ally.[90]

What Remains of the March 14 Forces Camp?

Syria's pressures on Al-Hariri to curb the anti-Syrian discourse among the March 14 Forces camp is bearing fruit. Today, few March 14 Forces politicians and journalists dare to speak out in public against Syrian involvement in Lebanon and against Hizbullah's weapons.

Samir Geagea: Syria Is Not Treating Lebanon like a State

The curbing of anti-Syrian discourse in the March 14 camp was manifested most clearly at a February 14, 2010 ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri. Unlike in previous years, the speakers refrained from accusing Syria of involvement in the assassination, and even spoke in praise of Lebanon's good relations with Syria.[91] Even Phalangist Party leader Emil Gemayel, one of the strongest opponents of Syria's involvement in Lebanon, announced his willingness to visit Syria, and it was even reported that his party had renewed ties with it.

Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces party – the strongest voice left in the March 14 camp and one who continues to speak out harshly against both Syria and Hizbullah and its weapons – continues to insist that the issue of Hizbullah's weapons be placed on the National Dialogue table, and calls for the weapons to be handed over to the state. Geagea told the Qatari daily Al-Watan that Hizbullah was the source of danger to Lebanon's security and stability due to its ties to Iran, and that no real negotiations could be conducted with it because of its refusal to compromise with the other side, since it considers itself the sole arbiter of the absolute truth. Geagea harshly criticized Syria for its unwillingness to resolve the issue of the missing and detained Lebanese in Syrian prisons or the Shab'a Farms issue. He added: "Syria is acting towards Hizbullah individually, towards Amal individually, towards [Michel] Aoun individually, and towards the Lebanese Forces individually... What role remains for the Lebanese state?"[92]

Another Lebanese official who continues to reject Syrian involvement in Lebanon and who speaks out against Hizbullah is Maronite Patriarch in Lebanon Nasrallah Boutrus Sfeir, who is a source of authority for many Christian politicians, particularly Amin Gemayel and Samir Geagea. He told the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat in an interview that while Syria might have withdrawn its military from Lebanon, its presence is still felt on the civilian level: "The Syrians come and go as they please, and interfere in [Lebanese] affairs of state... by means of their allies and their people." Sfeir added that "the exchange of ambassadors is of course a good thing, but it is not everything, because [Syria] has greedy aspirations vis-à-vis Lebanon..."[93]

The Christian Daily Al-Nahar -- The Only Newspaper Still in the Struggle

The Al-Mustaqbal daily, which belongs to the Al-Hariri family and had been the standard-bearer in opposing Syrian involvement in Lebanon, has stopped publishing articles on the subject, and its coverage of Syria-Lebanon relations is sympathetic. As of today, the Al-Nahar daily, known to represent the Christian community in Lebanon, is the most prominent Lebanese daily to still criticize Syria's behavior in the Lebanese context.

MP Naila Tweini: When Will Syria Apologize to Lebanon?

MP Naila Twieni, aide to Al-Nahar's director-general and a member of the family that owns the newspaper, is one of the only writers who still expresses her anti-Syria views openly and bluntly. Naila is the daughter of journalist Jubran Tweini, who was assassinated in 2005, and to this day she openly accuses Syria of the deed.

In a March 15, 2010 article, Tweini attacked Syria's demand that Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt apologize for his criticism of Syria, calling instead for Syria to apologize to Lebanon for its crimes against it. She wrote: "...Who will apologize to the Lebanese people for the harm done to it and its leaders? Who will apologize to [former] prime minister Fuad Al-Siniora, who has been described [by President Assad] as 'the obedient slave of an obedient slave?' Aren't these words an insult?

"Who will apologize to Patriarch Sfeir for the attacks by the mouthpieces of Damascus every time he speaks?... Who will apologize to the Lebanese for the assassination of Kamal Jumblatt and dozens of others by the Syrian regime and the forces that conspire with it? Who will apologize to the Lebanese for everything Syria has done against their leaders?..."[94]

Lebanese Columnist: Al-Mustaqbal's Weakness Brought Back Syria's Patronage

Al-Nahar columnist Ali Hamada criticized the March 14 Forces for enabling Syria to return to Lebanon. He wrote: "...The situation in Lebanon has deteriorated to what it was before 2005. This will certainly lead to the return of [Syria's] 'protection' [in Lebanon]; this will come about not because of the shrewdness of the Syrian regime or by virtue of Hizbullah's weapons, but because of the weakness of the Al-Mustaqbal faction. [Yes,] there is a need for reconciliation with the Syrian regime, but there is a tremendous gap between reconciliation and relations based on friendship, and relations based on obedience to the logic of patronage..."

Referring to Syria's criticism of President Suleiman and Prime Minister Al-Hariri, and to the demands it made on Walid Jumblatt, he wrote: "...Jumblatt's visit to Damascus is a living example of how one reconciles with the Syrian regime. Every time he meets one condition, another is added. It doesn't end with [Jumblatt's] quitting the March 14 Forces, with the [parliamentary] majority's shift from one side [the March 14 Forces] to the other [the opposition], or with the revival of old slogans and damage to [Lebanon's] independence; the conditions continue to pile up unendingly..."

Hamada concluded by stating: "The inter-Arab reconciliation, which constitutes the general framework for the Al-Mustaqbal faction's reconciliation with the Syrian regime, does not [as far as we know] include a renewal of [Syria's] protection [of Lebanon] – unless it has sections that are being concealed from the Lebanese."[95]

*H. Varulkar and N. Mozes are research fellows at MEMRI.


[1] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), April 26, 2010.

[2] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 1, 2010.

[3] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 27, 2010.

[4] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 583, "Syria Regains Pivotal Regional, Int'l Role – The Triumph of the 'Course of Resistance'", January 29, 2010, Syria Regains Pivotal Regional, Int'l Role – The Triumph of the 'Course of Resistance'.

[5] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 30, 2010.

[6] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2595, "'Al-Riyadh' Editor: 'Why Shouldn't Lebanon Return to Syria?' October 14, 2009, 'Al-Riyadh' Editor: 'Why Shouldn't Lebanon Return to Syria?'

[7] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 565, "The March 14 Forces after the Formation of the New Lebanese Government: From Electoral Victory to Political Defeat and Disintegration Within Five Months," November 22, 2009, The March 14 Forces after the Formation of the New Lebanese Government: From Electoral Victory to Political Defeat and Disintegration Within Five Months.

[8] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 24, 2010.

[9] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 22, 2010.

[10] Al-Nahar (Lebanon) April 25, 2010.

[11] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), April 29, 2010.

[12] Al-Hayat (Saudi Arabia), April 29, 2010.

[13] See, for example, MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1799, "Lebanese Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt Slams Syria, Iran, Hizbullah in Iran TV Interview," January 4, 2008, Lebanese Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt Slams Syria, Iran, Hizbullah in Iran TV Interview.

[14] Jumblatt made statements to this effect at a meeting with Druze sheikhs. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2383, "Walid Jumblatt in Closed-Door Meeting with Druze Sheikhs: 'We Have No Choice But to Coexist with the Shi'ites', June 5, 2009, Walid Jumblatt in Closed-Door Meeting with Druze Sheikhs: :'We Have No Choice But to Coexist with the Shi'ites'.

[15] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2650, "Lebanese Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt: The Slogans of the March 14 Forces Are Worn Out," November 16, 2009, Lebanese Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt: The Slogans of the March 14 Forces Are Worn Out.

[16] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 11, 2010.

[17] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), March 11, 2010; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 17, 2010. It should be noted that this was not the first time Walid Jumblatt radically changed his positions and shifted alliances in accordance with what he perceived as the Druze and the Lebanese interests. Immediately after the end of the period of mourning for his father, Kamal Jumblatt, he visited Syria and met with then-President Hafez Al-Assad, whom he blamed for being behind his father's assassination. In an interview for the English-language Iranian channel Press TV, he later explained that he had met with Assad out of necessity and called this "a pact with the devil." See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1799, "Lebanese Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt Slams Syria, Iran, Hizbullah in Iran TV Interview," January 4, 2008, Lebanese Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt Slams Syria, Iran, Hizbullah in Iran TV Interview.

[18] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 13, 2010.

[19] Al-Watan (Syria), December 20, 2009.

[20] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 13, 2010.

[21] Al-Watan (Syria), December 21, 2009.

[22] Al-Watan (Syria), December 20, 2009.

[23] Al-Watan (Syria), December 29, 2009.

[24] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 12, 2010, February 24, 2010.

[25]Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 19, 2010.

[26] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 10, 2010.

[27] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 8, 2010.

[28] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 12, 2010.

[29] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 22, 2010.

[30], February 24, 2010.

[31] Al-Watan (Qatar), February 27, 2010.

[32] Al-Akhbar (Syria), March 1, 2010.

[33] Al-Raya (Qatar), February 28, 2010, Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), March 2, 2010, Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 6, 2010.

[34] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 3, 2010.

[35] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 12, 2010.

[36] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 3, 2010.

[37] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 18, 2010.

[38] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 18, 2010.

[39] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), January 21, 2010, Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 18, 2010.

[40] Al-Safir (Lebanon), February 25, 2010, Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 2, 2010.

[41] Al-Watan (Syria), April 18, 2010.

[42] Al-Watan (Syria), December 20, 2009.

[43] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 2, 2010, April 8, 2010.

[44] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 2, 2010.

[45] Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 11, 2010.

[46] Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 13, 2010.

[47] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 19, 2010.

[48] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 24, 2010.

[49] Al-Watan (Qatar), April 29, 2010.

[50] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 14, 2010.

[51], March 5, 2010.

[52] Al-Watan (Qatar), April 29, 2010.

[53] Al-Watan (Qatar), April 29, 2010.

[54] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 499, "Syria and the Lebanese Opposition Against Lebanese President Michel Suleiman," February 19, 2009, Syria and the Lebanese Opposition Against Lebanese President Michel Suleiman;

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2690, "Syria's Spokesmen in Lebanon Warn Lebanese President In Advance of His U.S. Visit Next Week," December 11, 2009, Syria's Spokesmen in Lebanon Warn Lebanese President In Advance of His U.S. Visit Next Week.

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 520, "On Eve of Lebanon's Parliamentary Elections, Struggle between March 14 Forces, Hizbullah-Headed Opposition Heats Up," June 2, 2009, On Eve of Lebanon's Parliamentary Elections, Struggle between March 14 Forces, Hizbullah-Headed Opposition Heats Up.

[55] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), March 1, 2010.

[56] This was despite the fact that President Suleiman added to the dialogue team four opposition representatives close to Syria and Hizbullah – parliament members Suleiman Faranjia, Talal Arslan, Najib Miqati, and Syrian National Social Party chairman As'ad Hardan., February 28, 2010.

[57] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2829, "At Damascus Summit, Ahmadinejad and Assad Attack U.S. and Israel; Ahmadinejad: Israel's Elimination is Near; Assad: The Resistance Is Winning," February 26, 2010, At Damascus Summit, Ahmadinejad and Assad Attack U.S. and Israel; Ahmadinejad: Israel's Elimination is Near; Assad: The Resistance Is Winning.

[58] Al-Watan (Syria), March 1, 2010; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 6, 2010. Michel Suleiman emphasized on several occasions that the timing of the renewal of the dialogue was based solely on objective considerations, not on external ones. Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), March 3, 2010.

[59] Al-Hayat (London), March 20, 2010.

[60] It should be noted that for several days, Wahhab continued to attack Suleiman and repeatedly called on him to resign. Likewise, Wahhab stated that even though he had chosen to say his piece in the home of Michel Aoun, these words reflected his personal opinion alone, and did not oblige Michel Aoun., March 17, 2010; Al-Nahar, Lebanon, March 20 and 21, 2010;, March 23, 2010.

[61] Among them were former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha, parliament members Talal Arslan, Alain Aoun and 'Asem Qanso, and former parliament member Eli Al-Farizli. Both Hizbullah and the daily Al-Akhbar, which is affiliated with it, criticized the makeup of the dialogue team. Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 4 and 6, 2010; Al-Nahar (Lebanon), March 10, 2010; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 2, 2010.

[62] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), March 21, 2010.

[63] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 520, "On Eve of Lebanon's Parliamentary Elections, Struggle between March 14 Forces, Hizbullah-Headed Opposition Heats Up," June 2, 2009, On Eve of Lebanon's Parliamentary Elections, Struggle between March 14 Forces, Hizbullah-Headed Opposition Heats Up.

[64] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 12, 2010.

[65] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 20, 2010.

[66] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon); Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 24, 2010.

[67] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 24, 2010.

[68] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 24, 2010.

[69] Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 25, 2010.

[70] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 25, 2010.

[71] Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 30, 2010.

[72] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), March 28, 2010; Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 29, 2010. One of the speakers at the ceremony was Lebanese journalist May Chidiac, known for her criticism of the Syrian regime, whom she accuses of being behind the 2005 assassination attempt against her, among other things. In her speech, she attacked President Assad for his recent statements about Syria's relations with Lebanon, and stressed that the Syrian army would not return to Lebanon even if the Lebanese had pay with their lives to prevent this.

[73] Al-Akhbar columnist Thaer Ghandour quoted a source close to Damascus as saying that President Al-Assad told Jordan's King Abdallah II that Hizbullah is like the guards posted outside the castle gates. Al-Akhbar, Lebanon, April 2, 2010.

[74] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 18, 2010.

[75] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2829, "At Damascus Summit, Ahmadinejad and Assad Attack U.S. and Israel; Ahmadinejad: Israel's Elimination is Near; Assad: The Resistance Is Winning," February 26, 2010, At Damascus Summit, Ahmadinejad and Assad Attack U.S. and Israel; Ahmadinejad: Israel's Elimination is Near; Assad: The Resistance Is Winning

[76] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 517, "Ahmadinejad and Assad: Iran and Syria Are Leading a New World Order; The Time of America and the West Is Over," May 26, 2009, {{nodeurl-3334">

[77] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2846, " Assad-Ahmadinejad-Nasrallah Summit Seen By Arab Resistance Media as 'War Council' in Anticipation of War Breaking Out 'Within a Few Months,'" March 5, 2010, [78] Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 6, 2010.

[79] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 11, 2010.

[80] Al-Watan (Syria), March 16, 2010.

[81] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 532, "The Syria-Lebanon Relations Conference: An Opening for Syria's Return to Lebanon," July 7, 2009, The Syria-Lebanon Relations Conference: An Opening for Syria's Return to Lebanon

[82] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 27, 2010.

[83] Al-Safir (Lebanon), April 15, 2010.

[84] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 27, 2010.

[85] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 12, 2010.

[86] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 25, 2010.

[87] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 17, 2010.

[88] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 30, 2010.

[89] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 2, 2010.

[90] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 26, 2010.

[91] See The MEMRI Blog, "Fifth Anniversary Of Al-Hariri Assassination Passes Without Anti-Syria Accusations, February 15, 2010,

[92] Al-Watan (Qatar), May 3, 2010.

[93] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 30, 2010.

[94] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), March 15, 2010.

[95] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), March 11, 2010.

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