If 2009 was a good year for president Bashar al-Assad, Saad Harriri’s visit to Damascus on Sat. Dec 19th must have topped the Syrian cake with a big cherry. This visit by the Lebanese head of government to Damascus coincides with Lebanese President Suleiman’s visit to Washington. President Suleiman has a tough sales pitch for President Obama on Mon Dec 21st, he wants the U.S. to provide military aid to the Lebanese army and to nullify 1559 UN resolution sighting that Hezbollah arms issue is to be discussed only within a national forum, and please take note President Obama: everything is cool with Syria.
The fast track improvement in the Syrian Lebanese relations started with the end of summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. Israel’s military objectives did not materialize; Hezbollah declared a victory. Consequently, Hezbollah’s political agenda was handed a much needed boost after winning 35 seats in the May 2005 elections. The inherent weaknesses of the Seniora government started to unfold in 2007 and 2008 ending with a siege on the Lebanese Parliament staged by Hezbollah coalition supporters. This troubled period ended when the Doha Agreement in May 2008 handed the Hezbollah coalition a number of concessions changing the parliament configuration from 50+1 to a third and two thirds. Furthermore, the Doha agreement handed Hezbollah coalition a veto over every government decision.
From the Syrian perspective, having friendly Lebanese officials in office is a matter of security and stability in the region President Suleiman made a visit to Damascus this past month after a number of Lebanese officials made the same trip in hopes of paving the way for normalized relations. One contentious element remained, and Harriri’s visit to Damascus yesterday marked the quintessential tipping point. In all, one can clearly see in this past year that Syrian preference dictated how and when this bilateral relation should proceed.
In contrast to what some observers would like to project on the dynamics of the region, the Syrian Lebanese relations are not tied to the equation of Syrian military presence, but are rather subject to the equation of a big authoritative, consolidated state and the factional interests of a small state suffering from identity crises. The Lebanese cannot escape geopolitics, a reality that is understood by the Christian Lebanese partners of Hezbollah and its prominent Maronite, General Aoun. It is refreshing to see that Sunni Lebanese are getting the message as well.
One hopes that this visit is indeed a step forward in the stability and prosperity of Lebanon.