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Assad Learned from his Father to Keep Syria's Options Open

Author: Mohamad Bazzi, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
August 12, 2010
The National

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Ever since the February 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, Lebanon has been at the centre of a power struggle between Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

In a televised appearance on Monday, the Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah tried to shift attention from internal Lebanese bickering to an old enemy: Israel. He offered what he described as evidence implicating Israel in Hariri's killing. Hizbollah's political opponents were not convinced.

Lebanon remains on edge amid concerns that an international tribunal is preparing to indict members of Hizbollah for involvement in Hariri's assassination. For weeks, Mr Nasrallah has tried to soften the blow of indictments if they are handed down.

But the biggest beneficiary of this latest crisis in Lebanon is the Syrian regime, which ironically, many Lebanese blamed for Hariri's murder. The Syrian President Bashar Assad and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia traveled together to Beirut last month to meet with Lebanese leaders and calm fears that the country is once again headed toward civil strife. The visit was meant to show the Arab world that Saudi-Syrian reconciliation is on track. It was also a message from Mr Assad to Washington: Lebanon cannot remain stable without Syria's tutelage.

At the same time that he is reaching out to Saudi Arabia and pushing his way back into the Arab “fold,” Mr Assad is maintaining his relationship with Iran and its allies: Hizbollah, Hamas and Iraqi Shiite factions. These moves are a classic example of the statecraft practiced by Bashar's father, Hafez Assad, who ruled Syria for three decades.

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