On The Syrian Ambassador’s Expulsion

The PSP and M14 were demonstrating in the past few days in an attempt to pressure the Lebanese government to send the Syrian ambassador back to Damascus. Ironically enough, the presence of the Syrian ambassador in Lebanon was one of M14’s winning articles, if not the only one, that remains 4 years later after its mise en place intact in the Doha agreement of 2008. A unity government was forced on M14 after they won the elections in 2009, the STL was no longer agreed upon in 2010, and Hezbollah used his military superiority in 2011 to take power. Back in 2008, even though they held the parliament’s absolute majority, M14 had to suffer the burden of electing an independent president, of forming a government where the opposition had veto power, and even staging elections under an electoral law that was most probably going to give the other camp a victory in 2009. However, the only article that was still in favor of them nowadays, was establishing diplomatic ties with Syria.  Since 1943, it was never of Syria’s “prestige” to have an envoy in Beirut. 2009’s move by Assad was an important concession for Syria. Just like his agreement with Turkey, in which he gave up the region of Alexandretta and accepted the fact that it was no longer Syrian occupied territory but  rather a Turkish district, initiating diplomatic relations with Lebanon was shocking. Sending a diplomat to Hamra Street was a formal recognition of a Lebanese State for the first time, 89 years after its creation. Lebanon was no longer a district that the French took away from mainland Syria to assert their rule in the Levant. Syria was Syria, and Lebanon was now Lebanon. 89 years later, it seemed as if Beirut was starting to fade away in the dreams of the Syrian expansionists. Beirut was no longer Syria’s finest port. It was just another capital of a nearby state, sharing the status of Amman, Baghdad and Cairo.

Breaking the relations with the Syrian regime isn’t just an act of defiance or a casus belli. It’s a Syrian driver’s license to drive from Damascus to Beirut. Throwing the ambassador out of Lebanon is making Lebanon diplomatically invisible, unrecognized by Syria. A Lebanon that does not exist, that can be easily annexed, or be subject to tutelage. Lebanon does not have the military power of the United States, does not have the economic might of Japan, does not have the size of Russia, does not share borders with 9 peaceful countries like Germany. Lebanon is a small country, with a failed political system, with a small unarmed army, under heavy debt, economically weak, politically depending on everyone – including Syria – for its existence, that is in the middle of all Middle-Eastern conflicts. And what could be more pain-reliefing for Assad than distracting his people and the international community with a small invasion of Lebanon, “that is hosting Syrian rebels and now loyal to them”?. By taking down the Syrian embassy in Beirut, M14 will be giving Assad what he wanted the most: Move the struggle to the east of Damascus, to Beirut, and eventually gradually absorb the insurgents by sending them as Syrian armed men into the towns and villages of Lebanon. Lebanon is not more for Syria than Georgia is for Russia. For Syria has an external enemy now, that should be taken down before everything else.

And let’s suppose that the Syrians won’t have a military response, and are too concentrated on their cities now. There will definitely be an economic response. Yes, sure, let’s willingly close our only functioning border, and see ourselves trapped in our 10452 Km² considered the fact that Syria’s allies also control the suburbs holding our only civil functioning airport. Yes? Why not! Let’s willingly kill what’s left of our trading capabilities and become the world’s newest territory under siege, exclusively competing with the Gaza Strip.

The Syrian regime is very likely involved in the Samaha issue. But is it worth it to cut the diplomatic links Lebanon waited 89 years for? Is it worth it to isolate the country economically and geographically? Is it worth it to risk a Syrian reprisal? Is it worth it to risk higher inflation rates? Is it worth it to risk a civil strife? Is it worth it to wait for a Syrian Opposition that might never take power? Is it worth it to wait for that new Syrian regime to reestablish diplomatic links with Lebanon (which might never happen)?

Maybe M14 are right in their demands. Maybe we can punish Syria. But we are punishing ourselves even more. Syria can survive without an ambassador in Beirut. They don’t even need an ambassador, they have an absolute majority in the parliament that’s loyal to them. But can we survive without the Syrian Borders? Can our economy survive? Can we be diplomatically visible? You don’t throw a stone if your shelter is made of glass. sarcastically, that’s a Lebanese proverb.