Recurring calls by Lebanese President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil for the “return” of the Syrian displaced persons, remind me of the campaigns of Eastern and central Europe’s extreme right leaders against Syrian refugees. These calls are issued, however, against a background larger than Lebanon, even possibly larger than the Arabs.
What underlines this impression is the campaign orchestrated by security services associating most crimes and transgressions committed with those displaced; which makes weak souls and dimwits believe the President and his camp are right.
However, the most dangerous aspect of the Aoun-sponsored campaign is that it intentionally ignores what created the “displacement” phenomenon and the identity of the Lebanese culprits responsible for it. These culprits are none other than those who pushed for Aoun’s election to be president, while hiding behind his, his son-in-law’s and some security services’ pressure for two reasons:
The first, is their wariness about future regional developments, since Moscow has now overtaken Iran as the main power broker in Syria.
The second, because they want to perpetuate the lie that they value “Muslim unity”, while working to destroy the credibility of moderate Sunni leaders, who are deluding themselves by acting as if they occupy positions of real authority.
Last week, the Lebanese President, repeated his now familiar tune against the Syrian displaced, but this time he added another ominous sentence, when he said: “We are not going to wait: neither for a political nor a security solution in Syria, as it is our duty to defend our nation’s interest”. These words were uttered at a ministerial session in front of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and all the ministers, including those who represent parties that presumably opposed and still oppose Hezbollah’s fighting inside Syria. In other words, these are the same parties which know enough about Hezbollah’s role in uprooting and displacing tens of thousands of Syrians, beginning with the border town of al-Qusayr and continuing with Greater Damascus and Barada River Valley. Yet, some Sunni leaders are playing a waiting game, not only compromising, appeasing and conceding to Hezbollah, but also accusing of hypocrisy and outbidding, anyone who criticizes their appeasement and concessions.
Such a weird situation is inseparable from a regional picture where “border lines” are collapsing and the ground is being prepared for new “partition lines”!
It would be absurd now to talk of a “pre-2003 Iraq” or a “pre-2011 Syria”. The tragic play is finished, against a background of rivers of blood, mountains of hatred, and a dawn of adventurism, subservience, sectarianism and racism of every color, shape and form.
Last week, even Arab intellectuals found themselves torn between supporting the Iraqi Kurds’ referendum from a standpoint of respect to the right of self-determination in light of Iraq being dominated by Iran’s mullahs and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) through their henchmen in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF); and supporting the Iraqi army’s reclaiming of “the Disputed Territories” by force because it was its duty to save Iraq’s sovereignty from the Kurdish secessionist threat.
In the meantime, there were those expressing doubts as to whether the Baghdad government would be able to rid Iraq of Iran’s hegemony over the country’s armed Shi’ite militias, unless western powers led by the US deal decisively with Tehran’s aggressive policies. In fact, until now, and despite the change in Washington’s handling of the Iran file under Donald Trump, its positions have so far been more like a “letter of intents” rather than a courageous practical strategy in a highly sensitive region; and is becoming even more sensitive as Moscow tries to reclaim its lost influence.
In the same vein, it is clear that one reason behind the latest Kurdish setback in Iraq was their over-confidence that Washington was now supportive of their cross-border dream of “Greater Kurdistan”. Regardless whether the insistence of Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani on going ahead with the referendum was or was not a wise decision, one might say that ambiguous American messages to Kurds in northern Syria encouraged Barzani to go far.
Even a less clever Kurdish leader than Barzani, I reckon, would have never taken such a huge gamble had these messages been there, given old Kurdish divisions, open Iranian and Turkish aggressive opposition, and the hesitation of the international community in partitioning Iraq at this stage.
Well, what about Syria then?
Ever since Washington “invented” a militia, and gave it the attractive name “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF); even before that, ever since it chose to back the “People's Protection Units” (YPG) Kurdish militia – which is the backbone of SDF – in the battles in Ain al-Arab (Kobane), with no regard to Turkey’s reservations and criticisms, it encouraged Kurdish dreams of “Greater Kurdistan”. Dreams that would create an entity extending from Alexandretta (Iskenderun) on the Mediterranean to Kermanshah in Western Iran, and from Diyarbakir in Eastern Turkey to Urmia in Northwest Iran, including all of Northern Syria and Iraq.
Moreover, Washington’s backing of the YPG in the battle of Ain al-Arab against ISIS, took place shortly after former US President Barack Obama openly made light of the potential and capabilities of the Syrian opposition, namely the Free Syrian Army. One would argue however that had Washington given this opposition a quarter of what it gave the YPG the situation in Syria could have been different.
Anyway, all this is in the past now.
The Obama presidency is over, while Moscow’s engagement with the “peoples” of Syria is now a vital element of how Syria, along with Lebanon, may look like in the future in cooperation with both the US and Israel.
The Geneva peace process and its UN envoy Staffan de Mistura are now nothing but a meaningless show after Washington had allowed Moscow to make the “Astana talks” (sponsored with Turkey and Iran) as the real alternative; and after the demise of ISIS, that sham organization the Great Powers used to justify partitioning the region after uprooting and expelling around 20 million Sunni Arabs from Syria and Iraq.
In short, what we are dealing with today is redrawing the map of the Arab Near East, from Lebanon to Iraq; a project much bigger than the local players as Mr. Masoud Barzani has now discovered.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949.