So what did all this prove? That there was another voice in Lebanon. That if the Lebanese “opposition” – pro-Hariri and increasingly Christian – claim to speak for Lebanon and enjoy the support of President Bush, there is a pro-Syrian, nationalist voice which does not go along with their anti-Syrian demands but which has identified what it believes is the true reason for Washington’s support for Lebanon: Israel’s plans for the Middle East.
The Beirut demonstration yesterday was handled in the usual Hizbollah way: maximum security, lots of young men in black shirts with two-way radios, and frightening discipline. No one was allowed to carry a gun or a Hizbollah flag. There was no violence. When one man brandished a Syrian flag, it was immediately taken from him. Law and order, not “terrorism”, was what Hizbollah wished. Syria had spoken. President Bashar Assad’s sarcastic remark about the Hariri protesters needing a “zoom lens” to show their numbers had been answered by a demonstration of Shia power which needed no “zoom”.
And in the mountains above Beirut, still frozen under their winter snows, few Syrians moved. There were Syrian military trucks on the international highway to Damascus but no withdrawal, no retreat, no redeployment. The Taif agreement of 1989 stipulated that the Syrians should withdraw to the Mdeirej heights above Beirut, which they have now agreed to do, 14 years later than they should have done.
The official document released by the Lebanese-Syrian military delegation in Damascus suggests this is a new redeployment and that in April the Syrian forces, along with their military intelligence personnel, will withdraw to the Lebanese-Syrian border.
But the question remains: will they retreat to the Syrian side of the frontier, or sit in the Lebanese-Armenian town of Aanjar, on the Lebanese side, where Brigadier General Rustum Gazale, the head of Syrian military intelligence, still maintains his white-painted villa?
Either way, Lebanon can no longer be taken for granted. The “cedar” revolution now has a larger dimension, one that does not necessarily favour America’s plans. If the Shia of Iraq can be painted as defenders of democracy, the Shias of Lebanon cannot be portrayed as the defenders of “terrorism”. So what does Washington make of yesterday’s extraordinary events in Beirut? ~Robert Fisk, The Independent