March 04, 2005

The Saudis and The Syrians

Why is Riyadh, which has historically enjoyed pretty good relations with Damascus all told, suddenly calling for Syria to get out of Lebanon? A big reason, of course, is the assassination of Rafiq Hariri--who was very close to many in the large Saudi royal family (he made much of his money in the Kingdom).

The Saudi message came at a crisis meeting in Riyadh between Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto Saudi ruler.

The move deepened Syria's isolation and was a sharp rebuff for Mr Assad, who has in the past enjoyed the support of Riyadh.

Saudi officials were quoted by agencies as saying the crown prince warned that Syria had to move its 15,000 troops out of Lebanon or face strains in its relations with the kingdom.

A Saudi official on Thursday said he could neither confirm nor deny reports. But one Arab official familiar with the Saudi position said: “The Syrian presence in Lebanon has been assessed correctly by the Lebanese that it is time for them to go.”

The Saudi warning came less than three weeks after the killing of Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister and a close ally of the Saudi royal family.

Senior Arab officials said Crown Prince Abdullah had been incensed by Hariri's killing, which many Lebanese blamed on Syria and the pro-Syrian regime in Lebanon. “The feeling in Saudi Arabia is one of depression and anger,” said one official. “There will be a price paid.”

Hariri, the architect of Lebanon's reconstruction after the 1975-1991 civil war, was also a businessman who had accumulated a $4bn (€3bn) fortune in Saudi Arabia. Several Saudi princes travelled to Beirut to pay their condolences to the Hariri family after the assassination.

It has still not been proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the Syrians were behind Hariri's assassination. But, shall we say, there is a something of a presumption in the air that Damascus orchestrated the attack. If the evidence ends up bearing this out-- talk about overplaying one's hand dumbly! After all, it takes a lot to get the Americans, French and Saudis all pissed at you, eh?

Posted by Gregory at March 4, 2005 01:46 AM | TrackBack (3)

Greg, what's the scuttlebutt in your circles on the persistent rumor that Hariri was actually an illegitimate son of King Fahd?

Posted by: praktike at March 4, 2005 02:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

don't mean to quibble, but what is the basis for your use of the evidentiary standard, 'preponderance' regarding syrian complicity in the assassination. i should think that with a matter of such gravity, one would need to do more than just 'tip the scales.'

Posted by: marc at March 4, 2005 04:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

actually, it's also possible that syria knew that they would have to get out of lebanon anyway. the big question for them would then be - who would stand in the way of the hezbollah/pro-syrian faction taking over in their stead? they got rid of harari, not expecting to say in lebanon, but expecting to rule by proxy. cheaper and possibly more effective. even if the anti-syrian side wins the first election, they're in with a very good shot in the second, once the glare of the foreign press has moved on.
the saudis are probably just pissed that they didn't get there first.

Posted by: anand at March 4, 2005 10:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I just remembered something. These days there are all these leftists who say that the present pro-democracy developments in the Middle East have nothing to do with Bush's policies. They claim that they are instead the result of pro-democracy trends that were already present before the invasion of Iraq.

What I remembered is that two years ago, they had exactly the opposite view. When Bush first announced his intention to promote democracy in the middle east, these same leftists said it would never succeed. They claimed the people of the Middle East have no interest in democracy, it is just a foreign idea that the US is trying to force on the region.

What these two contradictory views have in common, of course, is the idea that Bush is wrong.

Posted by: Les B at March 6, 2005 02:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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