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: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific