Monday, September 6, 2010

Is civil war inevitable?

It is difficult to explain Hariri's statement to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat today simply in the context of "a new page in relations with Syria":

"At a certain stage we made mistakes. We accused Syria of assassinating the martyred premier, and this was a political accusation."

There certainly wasn't a dearth of evidence pointing to Syria. By asserting it was a political accusation, Hariri is playing into the hands of those (like Hizbollah) who are attempting to discredit the entire investigation.  He then says:

“ There are people who misled the investigation, and they have caused harm to Syria and Lebanon…these false witnesses ruined the relationship between the two countries, and politicized the assassination”

But an early part of the investigation included statements from a large number of Lebanese politicians who recounted their understanding of the last meeting between Assad and Rafiq Hariri. Is Saad Hariri saying his allies were lying and were all involved in a political ambush of Syria?

Syria does not appear to be publicly pressuring Hariri into an apology, judging from the number of meetings he has had with Assad over the past year. At first glance, the timing and nature of this statement don't make any sense, unless it is motivated by something else. My gut feeling is that there are two explanations (that are not mutually exclusive):

1.  The statement was somehow scripted in Riyadh and little thought was invested into it by Hariri's office in Beirut.  Indeed, I find it interesting that Hariri's office in Beirut had no comment on the statement, according to the Huffington Post.

2.  Hariri fears the risk of civil war are very high, and good relations with Syria are necessary to protect the Sunnis from an impending showdown with Hizbollah.

Judging from the political rhetoric since the Burj Abi-Haidar clashes, the second explanation appears most likely.   As one friend presciently put it 2 years ago: "Hizbollah and the Sunnis will go to war. Hizbollah will beat the shit out of the Sunnis, who will have no choice but to cry to Damascus for help. Beirutis will end up welcoming Syrian troops with flowers."

I hope that I'm very very wrong, and we never see that nightmare again.

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