Israeli spies, Syrian obsession and a peace that had to break

Share
Related Topics

We knew something was coming. I had met an old journalist colleague for coffee on Saturday and we both said we felt there was a new, menacing atmosphere about Beirut. We didn't mean the sky-high prices and the usual corruption stories, but the incendiary language in which Lebanese politics was now being conducted.

"Walid Jumblatt better watch out," my colleague remarked, and I agreed. Just last month, the Druze leader in Lebanon announced that "elements" of the Syrian Baath party had murdered his father, Kemal Jumblatt, in 1975. This was explosive stuff - and he said all this to a Christian Maronite audience at St Joseph University.

The response last week was even more dangerous. The Baath party demanded that the Lebanese state should prosecute Mr Jumblatt for slander and treachery. Then Omar Karami, the colourless and very pro-Syrian Prime Minister - Rafik Hariri's replacement - claimed that those members of the political opposition demanding a Syrian retreat from Lebanon were "working with the Israelis". Others used the word "Mossad" instead of Israel. In Lebanon, this kind of language leads to a detonation.

Forthcoming elections - and an attempt to change electoral boundaries that might have deprived anti-Syrian factions of parliamentary seats - contrived to heat up the controversy already begun by UN Security Council resolution 1559, principally supported by the Americans and French, which demands the withdrawal of all Syrian troops from Lebanon.

They came here, of course, in 1976, under an Arab League agreement to end the civil war - they failed - and the accord was at the time approved by President Jimmy Carter and, partially, by Israel. But the post-war Taif agreement, in 1989, called for a Syrian withdrawal to the Bekaa Valley in east Lebanon, which Syria did not honour. Its protégés in Lebanon loudly announced that they did not want the Syrians to leave.

Jacques Chirac, the French President, insisted that they should go. Hariri was one of Chirac's best friends. They even had a beer together in the new city centre when the French President was last in Beirut. No bodyguards then. No security. But things have changed.

A few weeks ago the US stepped in, warning that it would not tolerate any violence before the Lebanese elections - yesterday showed what America's enemies thought of the threat - and repeating its demand for a Syrian withdrawal. Not until all other UN resolutions have been obeyed, said Emile Lahoud, the Lebanese President, constantly antagonistic towards Mr Hariri and constantly faithful to Syria.

The Israelis have to leave the West Bank before Syria leaves Lebanon. The Lebanese Christians opposed to Syria insisted that Damascus had broken the Taif agreement - which is true. Karami and Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament, held a big conference to point out that the demands of the US and the opposition - they include the disarming of the Hizbollah - were all American and Israeli policies; which is also true.

Last Sunday, Lebanese armoured vehicles drove down the Corniche in Beirut. I know two friends who have been buying large quantities of bottled water. One has purchased a new generator. Routine manoeuvres, you might say. Precautions against a hot summer or the usual failure of Beirut's power stations. Perhaps.

The Lebanese have no more appetite for war. The conflict which ended in 1990 destroyed their families and their homes and drained their lives of meaning. A new generation has returned from overseas educations, ambitious, irritated by the continuing sectarianism of official life as much as Syria's much reduced military presence. But the Syrian intelligence service remains - its headquarters are in the eastern town of Aanjar - and its pursuit of Israeli spies and treachery has become an obsession.

Into this darkening scenario, Mr Hariri cast a wistful eye, seeing no evil and claiming to hear no evil. So what was his real role in the opposition? Was he merely a disinterested onlooker, gazing down from his palace walls at the small men of Lebanese politics as they bickered about gerrymandered political boundaries? Or did he have other ambitions? Yesterday proved that someone believed he did.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
Members of the House of Lords gather for the state opening of Parliament  

Peer pressure: The nobles in the Lords should know when to go

Jane Merrick
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick