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Syria's Non-Withdrawal By: Olivier Guitta
Weekly Standard | Saturday, April 16, 2005


TWO RECENT REPORTS in the Lebanese press suggest that there may be less to Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon than meets the eye. First, the daily Al Seyassah (a Kuwaiti paper which carries a Lebanese edition) reported that, according to sources close to the Lebanese Ministry of Interior, tens of thousands of Syrians have recently been naturalized. And among them are 5,000 Syrian Secret Service personnel. So, technically these officers are now Lebanese citizens with no reason to leave their "own country." Second, according to An-Nahar, one of the leading and oldest Lebanese dailies, dating from 1933, Lebanese police in Beirut arrested a Lebanese Army car occupied by two Syrian military officers. Meaning that Syrians can also infiltrate the Lebanese Army and pose as legitimate Lebanese.

It looked too easy when Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian dictator, decided to withdraw his troops from Lebanon. Even though his decision came in the wake of global pressure following the murder of Rafik Hariri, it was difficult to believe that Assad would give up so quietly. Wouldn't he fight a little?

It makes sense that he would. Especially when you take into account the economics: Lebanon is Syria's cash cow. According to a World Bank estimate, Lebanon brings roughly $5.5 billion a year to Syria. To put this figure in perspective, Syria's total exports for 2003 were about $5.1 billion. Syria's economy is now in shambles, especially after the demise of Saddam Hussein's regime, which was another large source of revenue for Assad.

According to the CIA World Factbook and the French Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Syrian GDP decreased 3.3 percent in 2003 and the unemployment rate is now about 22 percent, with 20 percent of the population below the poverty line. Half a million Syrian workers are employed in Lebanon and contribute to the Syrian economy by sending money back home to their families.

In such an environment, it seems likely that Syria will try hard not to leave Lebanon, because a pullout would mean the end of Assad's regime. That is how important Lebanon is.


Olivier Guitta is a Washington DC based foreign affairs consultant.


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