The Significance of the Global Consensus over the International Tribunal
Raghida Dergham Al-Hayat - 17/11/06//

New York - Let the US and Britain hold talks with Iran to facilitate their withdrawal from Iraq, so long as this exchange is directed toward security guarantees to Tehran, not toward making deals for regional hegemony and blackmail alliances in Palestine and Lebanon.

Let Washington and London hold talks with Damascus to secure for the resumption of negotiations with Israel over the occupied Golan Heights in exchange for Damascus's contribution to the relief efforts in Iraq; provided that the price will not be renewing the linkage between Lebanon and Syria in the negotiations with Israel and Lebanon's being subjected to the Syrian 'diktat', after they have been widely disengaged.

We are well aware that the US and Britain will not become involved in unrealistic trade-offs along the lines of extending guarantees to the Syrian regime, exempting it from accountability if the International Tribunal is set up and finds the Syrian regime implicated in the terrorist assassinations in Lebanon.

What we are not sure of, however, is the extent of Israel's determination to sustain and protect the Syrian regime, regardless of the price, as it continues to view it as a key safety-valve.

We also do not know the nature of the deal Israel is seeking to forge with Iran, as both stand to form a historic alliance with their common regional strategic goals.

Nevertheless, regardless of the nature of the deal, the US will have to place its interests above Israeli priorities before it is too late. US interests dictate the urgent and just resolution of the Palestinian Cause, liberating the Palestinians from Israeli occupation, and saving them from the Arab or Islamic exploitation of their Cause.

US interests also dictate that it should not succumb to Iran, for this would be a mistake more serious than the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Furthermore, the anger over George W. Bush's policies should not be turned into a dangerous disregard and ignorance of the dangers of the Iranian-Syrian exploitation of the US' mistakes in Iraq and of the Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese for nuclear ambitions and domination to cover up terrorist crimes committed against individuals and States.

The developments so far in the process of establishing an international tribunal to prosecute those involved in the terrorist assassinations in Lebanon is an unprecedented historic event of equally unprecedented proportions. They will impact more than one regime and ideology in the Middle East.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council have agreed on the framework of the Tribunal and its statute. The UN General Assembly also considered the Fouad Siniora government's approval of the document establishing the legitimacy of the Tribunal. In doing so, it has disregarded the attempts by President Emile Lahoud to drag the UN into his suspicious battle to thwart the Tribunal.

All this points to the absurdity of the notions of rehabilitating the Syrian regime and providing it with the means to sign the death warrant of the Tribunal and restore its hegemony over Lebanon in exchange for its cooperation with the US in Iraq.

It is also part of the hype aimed to undermine the confidence in the establishment of the Tribunal, especially since it has taken a number of important legal and political strides. Moreover, it has begun to strike terror in the hearts of those opposed to it, who fear for their existence, as is the case in Damascus; or for alliance reasons, as is the case with Hezbollah; or for strategic alignment reasons, as the case with Tehran.

Discussions over the draft resolution of the Tribunal revealed the extent of the Syrian fear over its creation. The fear was embodied in the political, legal, international and domestic mobilization that strongly attracted attention. It could even be perceived as a self-indictment that precedes the actual legal indictment.

The Syrian government recruited British legal experts to be part of its delegation and exert every possible effort to intimidate the legal department within the UN by making excessive and unreasonable demands for reviewing each and every detail and exerting every effort to influence the process.

The Syrian government also sought to convince Russia to oppose the Tribunal by proposing amendments that were intentionally aimed at thwarting its creation.

For its part, Russia initially tried to convey the Syrian position in the negotiations, but soon realized that the issue at hand is essentially legal in nature, and that the scope for political interference was limited.

However, Russia's political decision to divert the discourse from 'opposition' to 'negotiations' and 'clarification' should, undoubtedly, be perceived as a decision of significant importance that has its indications.

More important is that Russia eventually approved the draft resolution on the Tribunal and its statute without stripping it of its fundamental authorities or hindering it with restrictions. Russia finally approved a Tribunal that would put both commander and subordinate to trial without immunity. Moreover, it approved a trial that is not limited to suspects in the assassination of former head of the Lebanese government, Rafiq al-Hariri and his fellow companions, but also those implicated in 14 counts of systematic assassinations and plots to commit systematic assassinations.

This Russian stance deserves recognition, both in terms of substance as well as timing. Moscow did not resort to stalling or manipulation, but conducted serious, legally-sound negotiations with the UN's legal department.

The legal department, headed by Nicolas Michel, also deserves a great credit for the way it acted, and still acts, in a highly professional approach. It has avoided politicization or being exclusively led by legal considerations.

The progress made in establishing the Tribunal is also a result of significant and remarkable cooperation from China. At the onset, China made it clear that it was on the side of the US, France and Britain, by adopting the text these countries submitted to the legal department, even before the Russian amendments. By doing so, China left Russia with the sole option of cooperating and not obstructing - a critical decision, taking into account the Chinese-Russian alliance within the UN on all files.

French President Jacques Chirac should also be accredited for his determination in discussing the issue of the Tribunal with a heightened sense of urgency, resolve and determination with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

US President George W. Bush, for his part, brushed aside notions of trade-offs or compromises and gave the go-ahead for arrangements to establish the Tribunal, while Britain backed and still backs the efforts of the Tribunal at all levels. This indicates that the five permanent members have reached an extremely rare consensus, which amounts to a precedent for the Arab region and at international levels. It is a consensus on not allowing political assassination as a means to bring about changes of government to go without accountability or trial.

If the investigation proves the involvement of the Syrian or Israeli leadership in these assassinations, then the leadership will stand trial, and, with it, the entire regime.

What seems striking, however, is that Israel has not lifted a finger to oppose the establishment of an international tribunal. This casts significant doubt on claims of Syria's innocence, as the Israelis would have not left a stone unturned to thwart the establishment of the Tribunal if they were involved.

But this is not the case. The only parties to act in this way are Syria and its allies in Lebanon, led by the President, who has four generals from his security command behind bars on charges of conspiring to assassinate members of his own nation.

Meanwhile, Emile Lahoud is astonishingly nervous, which suggests a sort of self-indictment. His behavior is similar to the attitudes preceding suicide or other actions of the same violent nature. His only hope for safety lies in his deep confidence in his ability to quash the Tribunal, which is becoming like the sword of Damocles over his head and the heads of his likes, depriving them of sleep at night. However, it is anything but a nightmare: it is the reality of tomorrow.

As for the rest of Syria's allies, they have committed great strategic mistakes by pressing for the resignation of their government ministers as soon the government received the draft resolution on the Tribunal statute from the UN. They had counted on the collapse of the government to prevent it from agreeing on the Tribunal.

With this mistake, they committed another act of self-indictment. They revealed their opposition to the Tribunal after pretending to support the establishment of a national unity government in place of the current government.

They exposed themselves even more when they sought to establish an obstructive majority to act as a veto against the decision of the current government, and have exposed themselves even more by their resignations.

These attitudes are not the only proof of the extend of their fear and of the deep rifts within the ranks of the Syrian regime and Hezbollah, but not in the Iranian leadership.

Fear in the heart of the Syrian leadership is obvious, despite the pretense of overwhelming confidence, the need for its assistance in Iraq, and the actual guarantees it enjoys through Israel.

These leaderships are fully aware that the train is on its way. They know that the train carries the Tribunal in it, and that it cannot be stopped, except at some stations, and perhaps through more assassinations.

Syria is the victim of its own actions, whether in Lebanon, in the harm it has done to its position in the Arab World, or in the international consensus that it led to; a consensus that led to resolutions that unanimously condemn it and bar its entry into Lebanon and, consequently, its domination of the Lebanese.

The Syrian leadership's actions in Syria itself are perhaps as bad or even worse that its actions in Lebanon. There was no justification for all the mistakes committed by this leadership as no signs of trade-offs or compromises are looming in the horizon.

The UN and the International Tribunal resolutions have effectively blocked all aspirations to trade-offs. At the same time, the key regional States in the Arab region have stopped thinking of taking Syria away from Iran and bringing it back into the Arab fold.

If Damascus counts on the Arab masses, then it should remember the outcome of the adventure of toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, which was based on the same calculations. The Arab masses are sometimes in a state of total apathy, and sometimes reach a level of intelligence and the ability to judge, which Arab regimes have not yet comprehended - which safeguard them from the exploitation of their leaders.

Iran, for its part, is aware that the appeal to the Arabs of its president, Ahmadinejad, is transitory. Iran also realizes that its alliance with Syria entails major burdens that it would like to throw off.

At this juncture, Iran sees a valuable political asset in Hezbollah, as long as the party remains in the opposition camp, and does not become one of two cases: either a 'legitimate' winner through the victory of its militia in the streets, as it has threatened, or a winner in the government by assuming authority in Lebanon, instead of attempting to obstruct authority.

Hezbollah, however, is incapable of being either. Indeed, the party is beginning to lose its effectiveness and position as an active resistance movement following its adventures across the Lebanese borders, and its violation of Lebanese sovereignty.

Like Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah has its overwhelming appeal for the masses. Its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, is probably fully aware of that appeal, following the ecstasy of victory.

Hezbollah is also content with its position, which enables it to obstruct authority in Lebanon. But it will not be as content at the helm, for Lebanon is a State with many minorities and is not susceptible to the rule of a majority. This is the nature of this country, which has become a sanctuary and home for minorities, and this it is what makes it distinguished and has enabled it to withstand all attempts to recruit domestic elements to execute foreign exploitations.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah realizes that he will not be able to become the President of the Republic of Lebanon, even if he did transform the country into the 'Islamic Republic of Lebanon', seeing as Lebanon is Iran.

He also knows that even if he prevailed in the street today, he will not be victorious, because tomorrow he will have to rule Lebanon through the militia, and to oppress and kill to maintain his authority. This would be defeat, not victory.

Eventually, Hezbollah's well-known, customary wisdom might prevail over this new defensive outcry that is alien to it. This wisdom would put an end to the fear in the hearts of the Lebanese, regardless of their identity, because intimidation is actually a covert means of deliberately spreading terror and nurturing frustration.

No exchange of the kind being currently promoted will take place. Hope lies in a possible drastic adjustment of US policies in the region as whole, and in a US withdrawal from Iraq that would not double up the bloodshed. If, however, the political decisions of the regional leaderships entail the need of triggering a regional war, then it will be up to others to also fight their own wars.

Until now, at this particular juncture, the Lebanese are sailing toward real independence and democracy at full steam. This merits celebration by the Lebanese, as they won unprecedented support in the cesarean birth of the International Tribunal.

Let the Americans also remember that Lebanon is the doorway to real democracies that are worth encouraging and shielding. Let them determinedly dismiss all notions of trading it off in exchange for an exit from Iraq. Let them remember that Iran is using Lebanon and Syria as commodities to achieve its own aims. It is also using Palestine to stir up Islamic sentiments and nurture feelings of hatred against the US, its interests and troops.

Let the Americans resist the instant impulse to put Iraq, Iran and Syria in one basket and embrace dialogue in the aftermath of war. Let the Americans exert a much-needed effort to invest a little time to understand all the files, one by one.