Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 1   No. 10

October 1999 

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Lebanon Moves Closer to Political Unity with Syria

When Syrian forces blitzkrieged into Beirut on October 13, 1990 and ousted the constitutional government of Lebanon, few believed that this military occupation would survive into the next millennium. The imagery of Syrian troops looting the presidential palace at Baabda seemed anachronistic in a year which witnessed the restoration of freedom to Eastern Europe, the fall of dictatorships in Latin America, and the formation of an international alliance to restore sovereignty to Kuwait. Nine years later, Syrian control over Lebanon is stronger than ever, formalized by comprehensive set of binding agreements stipulating military, security, economic and political cooperation.

On the eve of its ninth anniversary as a satellite state, Lebanon's prime minister traveled to Damascus to extend Lebanon's subservience even further, signing a comprehensive package of 19 bilateral agreements negotiated during the fourth session of the Lebanese-Syrian Joint Coordination Committee earlier this month. The accords are designed to dramatically accelerate the process of political and economic integration between the two countries.

The most controversial agreement stipulates that foreigners can now obtain a single visa granting them the right to enter either country. Though largely symbolic (Lebanese authorities have long been powerless to stop infiltration into the country via the Syrian border), this measure further blurs the distinction between Syrian and Lebanese sovereignty.

The other agreements, primarily geared toward solidifying Lebanon's economic dependence on Syria, include the following:

Lebanon The agreements stipulate continued reductions in tariffs and identify administrative problems to be resolved by special joint committees (some products designated by the Syrian Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade are excluded from the agreement).

Lebanon The agreements outline a project to create a joint 400 kilovolt power grid between Lebanon and Syria. This follows the completion in April of the joint 66-kilovolt Anjar-Hama power grid and approval of a project to install a second power grid in Toufail along the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Lebanon According to the committee's report, the Syrian government recently signed an agreement to provide natural gas to power stations in Lebanon. This was widely expected after the Lebanese government decided earlier this year to switch most of the country's power plants to dependence on gas rather than oil.

Lebanon The committee's report reiterated plans to install a modern fiber-optic telecommunications system whereby Lebanese telecommunications will be routed through Syria. An agreement was also reached to establish a joint internet network for both countries.

Meanwhile, in an interview earlier this month, former president Elias Hrawi offered a first-hand account of how directly Syria controls the Lebanese political system. In particular, Hrawi confirmed a well-known aspect of this control--while allies of Syria are abundant in Lebanese administrations, there is usually one minister who is authorized to directly communicate Syria's wishes to his colleagues. "In my first cabinet, Abdallah [Al-Amine] was considered to be the bearer of the secrets," said Hrawi. "Whenever a problem arose among the 30 members of the [Omar] Karameh cabinet, I would tell them that minister Al-Amine had a solution and ask them to vote on it. They would look at each other [and stop arguing]." Hrawi pointed out a number of major decisions, such as the appointment of Fares Boueiz as foreign minister, that were handed down to him directly from Damascus.1

  1 Al-Wasat, 18 October 1999

1999 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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