It’s Left to Bashar al-Assad to Tell the Truth

In the sparse Baathist drawing rooms of Damascus, reality often seems a long way away. But it was a sign of the times that President Bashar al-Assad was able to bring the great and the good of Damascus to their feet by the simple token of telling the truth–which no other Arab leader has chosen to do these past five weeks: that the Lebanese Hizbollah guerrilla army has, in effect, won this round of their war with Israel.

There was plenty of hyperbole in the Assad speech. A conflict that has cost 1,000 Lebanese civilian lives can hardly be called a “glorious battle” but he did at least reflect more reality than his opposite number in Washington who, driven by self-delusion or his love of Israel, claimed that Hizbollah had been defeated in Lebanon.

Israel’s “victory” in Lebanon presumably has to be added to our own famous “victories” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Syria and Iran, according to Mr Bush, were responsible for the “suffering” of Lebanon–which contains the seeds of truth since Hizbollah provoked this war by capturing two Israeli soldiers and killing three others on 12 July–although it wasn’t the Syrian or Iranian air force that was slaughtering the convoys of innocent refugee civilians in Lebanon. So it was that President Assad must have enjoyed his little peroration in Damascus yesterday.

“This is a [American] administration that adopts the principle of pre-emptive war that is absolutely contradictory to the principle of peace,” he said. “Consequently, we don’t accept peace soon or in the foreseeable future.”

Mr Assad can say that again. Indeed, there is no more sign that Hizbollah intends to “disarm” under the terms of UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701 than Israel is prepared to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 242 and withdraw from Arab territories it occupied in 1967.

However, it is clear that President Assad now sees himself back at the centre of Arab power after his army’s humiliating retreat from Lebanon last year. There was no more need for defeatism among Arabs, he said–a sentiment widely held in the real Arab world but quite absent from President Bush’s fantasy Middle East.

That it should be Syria, of all nations, which can state this to so much applause probably says more about Washington than it does about Damascus. And it is, of course, the return of the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights–see UN Resolution 242–that lies behind this whole disastrous war.

The truth is Israel opened its attack on Lebanon by claiming the Lebanese government was responsible for Hizbollah’s attack–which it clearly was not–and that its military actions would achieve the liberation of the captured soldiers.

This, the Israelis have signally failed to do. The loss of 40 soldiers in just 36 hours and the successful Hizbollah attacks against Israeli armour in Lebanon were a disaster for the Israeli army.

The fact that Syria could bellow about the “achievements” of Hizbollah while avoiding the destruction of a blade of grass inside Syria suggests a cynicism that has yet to be grasped inside the Arab world. But for now, Syria has won.

Iran, as Hizbollah’s principal supporter, clearly thinks so too. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who usually talks far more than he thinks, condemned the US for supplying Israel with the weapons it used on Lebanese civilians–perfectly true. But he did not say Hizbollah’s missiles come from a new-generation Iranian arsenal that did not even exist during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. While the US will be keen to assess the effectiveness of its weapons–albeit largely used on civilians–no one should doubt that Iran will also be assessing the success of its new Fajr missiles–and their effect on the Israeli army.

ROBERT FISK is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s collection, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Fisk’s new book is The Conquest of the Middle East.



Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared.