Only a few weeks ago, the West had been criticizing Syria over its alleged meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs. The accusations were raised over the murder of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. With Lebanon’s current political crisis — which has Hezbollah challenging Prime Minister Siniora’s government — the West is now turning to Syria to help alleviate tensions, fearing an all-out civil war in the country.
It is German Foreign Minister Steinmeler who has taken the lead. In a meeting with Syria’s President Assad today, Steinmeler applauded Syria’s recent move to restore diplomatic relations with Iraq, an event which went largely unnoticed nearly two weeks ago. The Foreign Minister urged that Syria act in similar fashion in regards to Lebanon.
The reason for Steinmeler’s appeal is the political standoff between Hezbollah and Prime Minister Siniora, whose government has lost popularity over its handling of the 34-day war with Israel. Hezbollah supporters have assembled in the thousands in Lebanon’s capital to demand that Siniora give Hezbollah more access to the government. While Hezbollah has political seats in Lebanon’s parliament, it is also listed as a terrorist organization by the US government. This makes it difficult for Western states to engage in direct negotiations with the organization. Syria has been linked to Hezbollah and is believed to have influence on the organization.
With its restoration of diplomatic relations with Iraq after a twenty-five year standoff following Syriaâ€™s support of Iran in the Iran-Iraq war, Syria looks to gain more influence in the region. It has already been reported that a three-way summit between Iran, Syria and Iraq may happen and the Iraq Study Group may also suggest the US work with Syria. If Syria participates in stabilizing the current situation in Lebanon, it may become a regional player.
Syria has already played a stabilizing role in Lebanon — that’s how Syrian troops ended up in Lebanon, where they were initially welcome both by Lebanon and the US. This time, Syria will have to go the diplomatic route, as any troops activity will spur speculation of malicious intent, as Syrian troops retreated from Lebanon last year.
Dmitri Marine blogs on Blogue North.