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May 6, 2005 9:00 pm

My Optimism about Ending the Syrian Occupation of Lebanon

My Optimism about Ending the Syrian Occupation of Lebanon The Syrian occupation of Lebanon began in 1976 and I started writing about it a few years later. Through the long, black years of Syrian hegemony, I have always believed that it would end someday. Here are a few selections (note in particular the specific prediction in the discussion with Robert Satloff):

1986: In"Damascus and the Claim to Lebanon," Orbis, 30 (1986-87): 663-81 (not online), I felt despair but kept the door open:"Short of very major change in Damascus – such as a civil war breaking out after Hafiz al-Asad's death – there appears to be nothing to stop the Syrian government from fulfilling its long-term goal of hegemony in Lebanon."

2000: At a panel,"Syria-Lebanon-Israel Triangle: The End of The Status Quo?" hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on May 19, 2000 – just 4 days before the unexpected Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and 22 days before the death of Syrian dictator Hafiz al-Asad – I had the following exchange with the institute's director, Robert Satloff:

SATLOFF: When do Syrian troops leave Lebanon?
PIPES: I would say in five years. I'm an optimist.
SATLOFF: Mark that down, 2005. (Laughter.)
PIPES: I don't think the president of Syria is going to live much longer. I think there will be a rapid diminution of Syrian power, Syrian will to control the country, Syrian ability to control the country. I think the Lebanese will take heart and will make efforts to push out the Syrians--I don't think it's for very long. It's for as long as Asad lives plus, you know, four or five years.

2000: With Ziad Abdelnour, I coedited the Middle East Forum's study group report, Ending Syria's Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role, which appeared in May 2000. The report, signed by such future Bush administration figures as Elliott Abrams, Paula Dobriansky, Douglas Feith, Michael Rubin, and David Wurmser (as well as Eliot Engel and Richard Perle), flatly declares that"All foreign forces must leave Lebanon." In the policy recommendations for the U.S. government, it states that"the use of force needs to be considered" to attain that goal, adding that"If there is to be decisive action, it will have to be sooner rather than later."

2000: In September 2000, I published"‘We Don't Need Syria' in Lebanon," which holds that"one can anticipate the day when Lebanon will free itself of the Syrian yoke and again be a sovereign country."

2005: Encouraged by developments following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, I wrote today in"Lebanon's Liberation Approaches" that"For the first time in three decades, Lebanon now seems within reach of regaining its independence."

So, Lebanese, to be on schedule, you have just three months to oust the Syrian occupiers! (February 22, 2005)

March 18, 2005 update: The Lebanese are certainly doing their part, by the hundreds of thousands, making clear to the Syrian government just how unwelcome it is. Even the United Nations has joined in the effort, with Secretary General Kofi Annan announcing that he expects Damascus to withdraw all of its 20,000 troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon before the country holds parliamentary elections in May. This marks the first time the United Nations has set a deadline for a complete Syrian withdrawal. The State Department adds that the U.S. government expects the same."There are elections in May. We want those elections to be free of foreign interference. We can't imagine how that can happen if there are Syrian troops and intelligence operatives still in Lebanon."

April 24, 2005 update:"Syria ended its three-decade presence in Lebanon," announces the Associated Press,"leaving behind only a few score troops who will attend a farewell ceremony Tuesday." My May 19, 2000 prediction, it appears, was off by a twenty-five days.

April 27, 2005 update: Of course, as indicated by a Washington Post article today titled"Syrian Intelligence Still in Lebanon: Significant Number of Operatives Remain, Say U.S. and U.N. Officials," the occupation story is not entirely over. It was always clear that getting the uniformed soldiers out would only be part of the task of ending Syrian control.

U.N. member states and the Lebanese opposition have told the United Nations that Syrian military intelligence has taken up new positions"in the south of Beirut and elsewhere, and has been using headquarters of parties affiliated with the government of Syria as well as privately rented apartments for their purposes," said a report Annan made to the Security Council and released yesterday. … the Bush administration, which with France co-sponsored the U.N. resolution requiring Syria's pullout, said Damascus is not yet complying."Some have left, but not all," said deputy State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli.

Syrian intelligence is also deployed in Palestinian refugee camps and communities, some of which have suddenly grown larger, U.S. officials and Western diplomats said. One Palestinian community in the eastern Bekaa valley, which is tied to the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), is of particular concern, as are strategic locations inside the Lebanese border with Syria, Western envoys said. The PFLP is based in Damascus. Syria's intelligence network has been its chief means of influencing Lebanese political and economic life for almost three decades. About 5,000 Syrian intelligence operatives were deployed in Lebanon, U.S. and European officials said.

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