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Published: Saturday, 2/19/2005

A shift in the war on terrorism

THE assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri reminds us that the war on terror is a global war, and indicates its central front is shifting from Iraq.

Syria has been occupying Lebanon since 1990, when Syria intervened to quell a Lebanese civil war it had helped foment.

Syrian puppets currently control the Lebanese government, but the natives were getting restless. Factions which not so long ago had been shooting at each other (the Lebanese are divided among Maronite Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Druze, a Shiite sect) were, under the leadership of Mr. Hariri, banding together to oppose the occupiers. Elections slated for later this spring were expected to go badly for the puppets, and their puppeteers.

Syria views Lebanon as a part of Syria, much as Saddam Hussein coveted Kuwait as a part of Iraq, and is loath to let go. "For decades now Syria has been losing card after card in a steadily weakening strategic hand. It's domination of Lebanon is one of the last and most vital of them," wrote David Hirst, a correspondent for The Guardian.

If the purpose of the Hariri assassination was to intimidate the Lebanese, it isn't working out so well. The turnout for his funeral was huge, and the crowd was angry.

Russia has been selling Syria advanced missiles, as part of its effort to revive their old Cold War alliance. Russia is also seeking France's support to block an expected U.S. resolution in the United Nations imposing sanctions on Syria if it doesn't withdraw immediately from Lebanon.

France loves to stick its fingers in American eyes. But the Hariri assassination is a complication. Mr. Hariri and French President Jacques Chirac were good friends.

"Whoever orchestrated Hariri's assassination imagined the explosive event would produce results in accordance with a master plan," wrote the Miami Herald. "It is unlikely, however, that the master plan included strengthening the bonds between the United States and France. But closer ties between Paris and Washington will undoubtedly result from the Hariri murder."

"France is working closely with the United States to craft a new U.N. Security Council resolution calling for the Lebanese government to fully investigate the blast that killed al-Hariri," reported Stratfor, a private intelligence service.

The result could be a Franco-American push for trade sanctions against Syria by the United Nations and the European Union. And given the bad press the United Nations has been receiving from the Iraq oil-for-food scandal, these sanctions likely would be enforced. The diplomatic isolation of Syria would be nearly complete.

As the Baathist regime of Bashir Assad feels the walls pressing in, Syria turned to what may be its one remaining friend in the world. Hitler and Mussolini had their Pact of Steel. Syria and Iran have formed - renewed, actually - what might be termed a Pact of Tin, because it is based on mutual weakness.

Iranian mullahs shake their fists and threaten to rain fiery destruction down upon anyone who attacks them or Syria. But their bizarre response to an incident Tuesday near their one confirmed nuclear site indicates their nerves are raw.

Al-Alam, an Iranian TV station that broadcasts in Arabic, quoted eyewitnesses as saying a missile had hit the ground about 12 miles from Deylan. Iranian antiaircraft systems had fired at it, Al-Alam said.

No, said Jahanbakhsh Khanjani, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, an airplane flying near Deylan had accidentally dropped a fuel tank, which had exploded.

No, said Agha Mohammadi, a spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council, the explosion was "the result of detonating a path for dam-building operations." Another Iranian official said the explosion was from road-building operations.

Iran is a dictatorship. The press is controlled. Nothing is reported without the consent of the mullahs. Something is going on, and they can't get their story straight. This is behavior more fearful than fearsome.

President Bush, who, liberals say, is maladroit at diplomacy, is pushing Syria and Iran into a diplomatic corner. But undergirding it has been the success of American arms in Iraq, and Mr. Bush's willingness to use force to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

As Frederick the Great said: "Diplomacy without force is like music without instruments." Mr. Bush, fortunately, has an orchestra at his disposal.



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