Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Syrians Pull Back

The Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon appears to be real.

Lebanon heads down road to democracy as Syrians go home (Times of London)

Syrian Intel Agents Leave Lebanon Post (Guardian)

The Lebanon-watching blog Across the Bay writes:

Within the next 24 hours, the 30-year old Syrian "presence" will be over. The Lebanese are jubilant ... as Michael Young put it: "No doubt they will continue to try to play a role in Lebanon, but the structure of their system of authority in Lebanon has collapsed." An important sign of this collapse is the resignation of the notorious security chief Jamil as-Sayyed. Another sign was the disarray in the carcass of the pro-Syrian gathering, which has already split, long before the much-maligned opposition did.

And it probably is real because there is no point in dissimulation on this scale. Syria is withdrawing actual assets, that is to say the basis of its tangible strength from its former semi-colony. After the the successful destruction of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq weakened Syria's position internationally it's sole claim to hegemony over Lebanon were its secret service and army personnel. Now these are being pulled back. It is questionable whether what remains will be able to dominate Lebanese society if the much larger force, now being evacuated, could not. Once the bulk of the Syrian army is withdrawan across the border, there is no easy way they can be returned without creating an international cassus belli.

The most amazing aspect of this development is the demonstration of the power of indirect warfare. The US did not actually have to drive the Syrians out of Lebanon simply had to make their position untenable, in a manner analogous, but on a much grander scale, than the way a flanking operation turns a line. What do the Syrians gain by pulling back? They 'shorten their lines' by reducing their geopolitical vulnerabilities. The Syrian withdrawal, paradoxically, may be intended to make Damascus slightly less vulnerable. Yet because Syria depended so much upon Lebanon for easy money there are bound to be internal represcussions. For the moment Syria and Iran -- more on this later if I have the time -- are on the strategic defensive.