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Waiting out the storm proved fruitful for the new golden boy of the international community.
History should have taught the international community that engaging a regime like Assad’s rarely works; on the contrary it actually emboldens it. Therefore, Syria is now adopting an even tougher stance. Assad can be quite satisfied with his strategy: he did not concede anything; he publicly humiliated France; he showed that he was a key partner; he broke off his isolation; he got the European Union to offer him an Association agreement in October 2009 and most importantly he got the international tribunal investigating the murder of Rafik al-Hariri off his back.
Interestingly, Assad had warned menacingly that were the tribunal to be politicized then, “Lebanon will be the first to pay the price.” Let’s say that this threat sent shivers down the spines of most Lebanese politicians from the anti-Syrian March 14 majority bloc. Indeed history has proven that Syria’s threats are only too real because it has the ability to get rid of its opponents and create havoc in Lebanon.
And so in order to keep a relative peace in Lebanon, first the West, and then more surprisingly Saudi Arabia, the March 14 force’s staunchest ally, gave in to Syria and de facto sacrificed Lebanon once more.
The real cherry on the cake and the most humiliating photo-op came about in Damascus in December when current Lebanese premier Saad Hariri embraced Assad, the very same man he had repeatedly accused of his father’s murder. Ditto for Hariri’s main ally on the Lebanese political scene, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose father had been reportedly murdered by the Syrians in 1977. Jumblatt just offered public apologies to Syria in order to be allowed to travel to Damascus to meet Assad.
At this point the Cedar revolution is dead and buried and Syria and its allies — among them Hezbollah — are back in power in Beirut with the blessing of the international community.
For the time being, one has to recognize that Assad is a formidable poker player and that waiting for the storm to pass was a smart strategy.
Olivier Guitta is a security and geopolitical consultant based in Europe. He is also an Adjunct Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. You can view his latest work at www.thecroissant.com/about.html.