Being so classy and not speaking often publicly on general issues is a main attribute of the top leadership in the Syrian Baathist regime. They rarely allow themselves to be faced and challenged by the media. The regime tends to convey its messages via different proxies and mouthpieces who are regime-linked. These pawns could meet foreign officials or media to express the official line, funnily enough in an unofficial capacity.
Take for the example the Syrian uprising which is 7 month old now. Not a single Syrian official showed up in any TV show since the ‘troubles’ started in Syria; nothing like an interior minister, sub-minister or even a spokesman. The task is usually done by ‘analysts’, ‘academics’ or ‘strategists’ who are actually fiercer than the regime itself in expressing the official line. A lot of these names became infamous now as they have been hosted almost full-time on satellite channels like AlArabiya and AlJazeera. Dr. Taleb Ibrahim is surely one of the infamous ones. Of the few instances the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem spoke to the media for example, they were in press conference type meetings rather than debate talk show types. Still, he managed to wipe out new countries when he spoke.
Let’s go back now to 24th February 2007 in Damascus, when the American Charge d’Affaires Michael Corbin met one of these ‘analysts’ described above, Dr. Imad Shueibi. Shueibi is a known face to those who follow the Lebanese and Arab TV channels. He appeared often on the Lebanese channels NBN (National Broadcasting Network) and the Hezbollah owned AlManar. I can understand if you thought NBN stands for the Lebanese Speaker ‘Nabih Berri Network’.
According to the cable 07DAMASCUS193 leaked by Wikileaks, Shueibi expressed the official Syria policy towards Iraq and Lebanon talking about ‘playing cards’ in there, and calling the United States government to deal with Syria on the basis that respect the ‘dignity’ of his country (no worries about the dignity of Lebanon and Iraq, apparently they are used to be humiliated). In reference to Iraq, he warned the American diplomat that Syria can exercise pressure on his government by returning all the Iraqi refugees in Syria to their country. He ignored the humanitarian aspect, and the legal case of the refugees under international law, allowed himself to use them as bargaining chips. Although according to the ruling Baath party Arabism ideology, Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqis are brothers. I can only make assumptions now on who’s exploiting the armed Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
As for Lebanon, Dr. Imad Shueibi predicted “that the current chronic level of instability would continue but would probably not escalate. Syria is ‘waiting to make a compromise with the U.S. in Lebanon’. […] but hinted that Syria could push the situation into real instability if there are moves to accelerate formation of the tribunal in Lebanon or if the UNSC takes action under Chapter VII (in relation to Special Tribunal for Lebanon). In the event of UN action, ‘we will play our cards’ in Lebanon and the situation ‘will get worse’.”. Lebanon at the time was going through extensive period of high profile political assassinations. The bulk of the targeted individuals were opponents to the Syrian influence in Lebanon, although Syria officially always denied any involvement in these killings. Shueibi even hinted strongly that Syria had blocked any forward movement on the Iranian-Saudi initiative on Lebanon.
Practically, the above words for Shueibi are being said almost everyday by Syria’s opponents in Lebanon, but they are always brushed off as ridiculous by its allies in Lebanon. But when a Syrian mouthpiece says that they can and will destabilise Lebanon, it becomes a heavy-weight statement. I fold ‘all my cards’ now.
If you have any doubts on how the ‘classy’ Syrian foreign policy is conducted, the previous post is recommended: A blunt American assessment of Bashar Assad and his foreign policy.
PS: Photo by deviantART (Zero_Leb)