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A Lebanon Civil War Will Be The Worst Trap For Syria.

*** Israel Under Sharon Has Begun To Use Newly Developed Opportunities In The Region

*** Sharon Has Changed The Rules Of The Game For Syria; It Must Prevent Any Anti-Israel Attacks From The Lebanon

*** The Beginnings Of The Trap For The Syrians In Lebanon Lie On The Muslim Side

*** Syria-Backed Christian Leaders Are Busy Making Money And Losing Friends

*** Turkey, In Its Worst Economic Crisis, Will Search For New Ways Out

BEIRUT - Highly placed APS sources say the current Christian-Muslim arguments over Syria's presence in Lebanon - with no guns involved as yet - could develop into the worst trap for the Baathist regime in Damascus. Once becoming a real military confrontation, the trap will have implications for Damascus and will affect countries beyond Syria.

The circumstances in the Middle East today are different from those which brought about Lebanon's civil war of 1975-1990. That was caused by the Palestinian military presence in Lebanon, then used in favour of the Muslims at the expense of the Christians. The Arabs in 1975 had emerged as a big economic power, thanks to a quadrupling of oil prices after the embargoes in the wake of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

The Arab economic power has since been diluted, with the Arab World today split beyond repair. The split was caused by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia blame Iraq for the failure of the Arab League's first annual summit since 1991, which was held in Amman on March 27-28. Split as it was, the Arab summit could not salvage Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) from the clutches of Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon's armed forces (see this week's Recorder & News Service No. 14).

Turkey is facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history. Its regional military ally, Israel, is facing the worst "intifada crisis" because the bankrupt PA is nearing collapse, and there is no viable alternative to Palestinian violence. Facing international condemnation for hitting Palestinians who are no match to Israel militarily, Sharon's option is to widen the conflict via Lebanon.

Today's Bush team is the least "engaging" among US governments since World War II, as far as the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned. What makes the trap for Damascus so dangerous, potentially, is that strategically the US in the Middle East is positioned exactly where Sharon wants it to be. This has become so clear to Egyptian President Mubarak that, during his recent visit to Washington, he was literally rebuked by Condoleeza Rice - the black National Security Advisor whose sexy legs so attracted Gen. Sharon - for supporting Arafat's intifada which she described as terrorism.

Sharon has nothing to offer to Damascus except a trap much worse than the one he set in his mid-1982 invasion of Lebanon. He is giving Lebanon's Christians an opportunity to escalate their revolt against the Syrian presence. If and when they escalate the revolt, they will be confronted by the Muslims and that will mean civil war. It will be a civil war over the Syrian presence in Lebanon, rather than a Syrian presence to prevent civil war and partition.

Some of the seeds of civil war in Lebanon had been sown during the 1975-1990 tragedy. The more recent seeds are being sown gradually through widespread corruption, nepotism and gross mismanagement - all attributed to the Syrian presence - in a Lebanon facing its worst economic recession since independence.

The Christians, who are beginning to regard Maronite President Gen. Emile Lahoud as being a mere puppet of Syria, are rallying around the Maronite Patriarch Msgr. Nasrallah Sfeir. Sfeir, lamenting the lack of leadership among the Christians, has become the standard bearer in calling for the Syrian presence to end and the Druze have joined forces with the Christians. The Christians are expecting Sfeir eventually to proclaim someone qualified to be their leader in the confrontation.

The oil producing part of the Arab World is entrenched under the US umbrella. The trap for Damascus in Lebanon will cause the US umbrella to assume roles which will offer new regional opportunities for the military establishments of Israel and Turkey. Then will come a wave of separatist forces calling for partition in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and other countries.

The Syrian Angle: In Damascus, meanwhile, the Baathist regime is getting nervous. This is because Sfeir's call for ending the Syrian presence in Lebanon is being presented as a national demand, rather than a Christian demand. On the Muslim side of the complex Lebanese politics, however, the call for the Syrians to stay in Lebanon is seen by the other side as being clearly a sectarian demand. Just as the Palestinian presence in the 1970s tipped the balance in favour of the Muslims, the Muslims today are using the Syrian presence to boost their position at the expense of the Christians.

The man most worried in Damascus is General Ali Aslan, the military leader who controls the Syrian regime. All those visible in the layer of authority in Damascus are people who were trained by Syria's previous strongman, the late Hafez Al Assad, who died in June 2000. The problem is that they were trained to keep depending on the wits of a leader who had mastered the art of geo-political intrigue.

With Assad gone and his son Bashar trying his best to show leadership, Gen. Aslan is spending sleepless nights, wondering how the Lebanese situation will be turning into a trap. He was the man who commanded the Syrian troops into Lebanon in 1976 and remained their commander for years. Through his Lebanese experience, he learned one thing: not to trust one's instincts and not to act the way the Lebanese anticipate. He is worried that the beginnings of the trap already exist. They lie on the Muslim side, which tends to turn the Syrian presence into a pro-Muslim element rather than a peacekeeping presence.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Apr 23, 2001
Words:972
Previous Article:Iran-US Rapprochement Would Change Regional Geo-Politics In A Big Way.
Next Article:Sharon Is Changing The Rules Of The Game In Lebanon.
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