lesser syria and greater lebanon
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'Lesser Syria' and 'greater Lebanon'

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lesser syria and greater lebanon

Walid Choucair

Syrian President Bashar Assad can be proud, as he was quoted by Reuters one week ago, that “developments in Syria are moving in my favor.” In terms of his grip on power and remaining the head of state in Syria, the man continues to live in his own world. He pays no attention to the destruction that he has dished out to a centrally-important state, one with a huge impact on the regional situation. He is equally unconcerned with the fact that more than 100,000 people have been killed, and millions displaced, and that refugees in schools inside the country are being bombed, namely in Homs. He is also unconcerned with losing control of around half of Syrian territory, with the ongoing crisis and war in all parts of the country, and with the fact that it is taking on the character of a civil and sectarian war on many occasions. Assad is not anxious about the accusations that he, his forces and his supporters have committed crimes against humanity. Neither is he worried that Kurdish areas are preparing to establish a self-rule administration in the northeast, similar to what took place in Iraq during the 1990s, when they set up autonomous zones. Assad and his allies Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, which support him with money, weapons, fighters and intelligence information, can be proud that he has managed to remain in power for more than two and a half years following the outbreak of a popular uprising against him. These allies can rejoice at the fact that Assad’s rivals have fallen into the trap of fighting against each other. This is taking place in clashes pitting units of the rebel Free Syrian Army against fighters from the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in areas of the Syrian coast and the north of the country, as the armed opposition’s ranks become fragmented and weakened. The United States and western countries are using the growing influence of hard-line Islamists as an excuse to link the provision of qualitative weapons to the FSA and the opposition National Coalition to their doing away with these extremists under the rubric of fighting terror; the regime itself helped promote the existence of these extremists, after it opened the regime’s prisons and let them out, and opened Syria’s borders to facilitate their movement. Whether or not the regime and its allies are aware that the west is playing its own game, by turning Syria into an arena of conflict, the regime’s reassurance about the developments, believing them to be in its favor, are amazing. The assumption that it has succeeded in making progress in some regions, as is currently taking place, after expelling its opponents from the city of Qusair, and the attempt to control Homs, is nothing more than the securing of communication lines between Damascus and the Syrian coast, to prevent being surrounded and the capital falling, and guaranteeing the survival of communication lines between Syrian regions adjacent to Lebanon and Lebanese territory controlled by Hezbollah. But this will not let the central government regain control over the south, the center and the north of the country. It retains Assad’s control over a "Lesser Syria," with the regime’s authority protected in cooperation with Iran and Hezbollah through open borders with Lebanon in this country’s east and northeast. How can one believe that the formula of a Lesser Syria and a "Greater Lebanon" will become stabilized? Should one believe that the political geography will change to the extent that Lebanon becomes a base for protecting the regime in Syria, which will experience a division of influence over its various regions? This will come after history taught generations of people that a “Greater Syria” (with a regional role) protected its "lesser" neighbor Lebanon” and the regime there, with this influence coming in exchange for not seeing the country divided. If we assume that the regime’s happiness over achieving progress here and there on the ground serves as a prelude to a regional-international political deal that will be to the regime’s benefit, will this deal – which involves a division of influence in various areas – allow the central state to assert its authority throughout all of the country? Or, is everything happening merely as an attempt to improve the conditions of the regime and establish a new phase of wars over these areas? If we believe the news about the regime's plan to naturalize some 750,000 people - Iranians, Iraqis and Houthis from Yemen, and those from some Asian countries - as a prelude to bringing about demographic change in Homs and its surrounding areas, and in the province of Swaida, then all of this merely serves as preparation for a phase of coming wars, to change Syria’s demographic map. This game of demographic distribution in Syria represents an additional reason why a settlement between Assad and his opponents is impossible, after hostility between them has passed the point of no return. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.

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