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Posted by on Apr 26, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

Syria Quits Lebanon Intelligence Agents And All

Syria yesterday pulled out of Lebanon yesterday sooner than expected — taking its remaining soldiers and what it said was its remaining intelligence agents with it.

So a crisis that seemed to be heading to a confrontation-packed conclusion ended with a whimper, not a bang. And although no one can really confirm that Syria has ended its 29-year military presence completely by removing all of its intelligence operatives what it all boils down to is that there has been an official military pullout — ending all diplomatic attempts to justify continued Syrian presence there.

What it doesn’t mean is that in doing so Damascas has no influence over Lebanon. That chapter isn’t closed yet, as Reuters notes:

As the Syrian troops crossed the frontier in green buses, many Lebanese hailed their departure as the start of a new era, but analysts said Damascus would remain influential.

Indeed, just look at the history of Syria in Lebanon:

Syrian forces entered in 1976 to try to end Lebanon’s civil war which had begun the previous year. However, the conflict did not end until 1990. At different times, Syrian forces had fought Muslim and Christian militias, Lebanese army units, Palestinian guerrillas and the Israeli army….

The Syrians dominated Lebanon after the civil war, incurring little serious international opposition until a U.N. Security Council resolution in September demanded their withdrawal.

The Feb. 14 assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, blamed by many Lebanese on Damascus, triggered large anti-Syrian protests in Beirut and an outcry abroad. That prompted President Bashar al-Assad to announce on March 5 that he would bring his forces home. The withdrawal, involving about 14,000 troops, took about seven weeks to complete.

Reuters offers this chronolgy of events since Hariri’s killing. Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson adds these details about a pullout that went far smoother — and quicker — than anyone would have ever predicted:

No one is clamoring for the Syrians to stay, and many people watched impassively as convoys of Syrian military vehicles trundled along the valley’s narrow roads Monday toward the shared mountain frontier. But neither was there jubilation, especially among the senior military officers and Lebanese civilians who worked with and lived among the Syrian troops here for decades. And some Lebanese expressed frustration over the intense international pressure directed against Syria to end its domineering presence in Lebanon.

The final departure marks a retreat that was widely unexpected by Western diplomats and Lebanese officials in the days immediately following Hariri’s death. Syria’s military and intelligence services have almost entirely departed since then, and three of six Lebanese security chiefs have stepped aside, including Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyed, the powerful head of Lebanon’s General Security department, who announced his resignation Monday.

The Lebanese parliament, still dominated by pro-Syrian legislators, plans to pass a law this week to set general elections for the end of May. Leaders of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian opposition hope the vote will change the political balance of power here and usher in a more independent government.

In the short term, the withdrawal will mean tighter borders between Lebanon and Syria, with the closing of a special access road long used by the military, Lebanese and Syrian dignitaries and well-connected smugglers to avoid the customs outpost. It will also mean import taxes on some goods moving between the two countries and a far larger responsibility for Lebanon’s military in controlling this broad valley, where hashish production and opium crops flourished before Syria’s arrival…..

But mutual defense pacts remain in place; the leaders of both countries see Israel as a common foe. Hezbollah, the armed Shiite Muslim political movement that Syria has long used as a proxy army against Israel, has so far declined to give up its formidable arsenal despite international demands that it do so.

So a pullout does not mean a total loss of Syrian political or diplomatic influence — or that some of its intelligence agents might still be there but are not advertising to the world that they’re agents.

Now the focus will be on Lebanon’s new democracy. For reading on that, we highly recommend the posts of blogger Michael Totten, who has been in Lebanon reporting on the birth of a new country and democracy. A good sampling of them can be found here, here, here and here. All these posts and more can be found on Spirit of America blog.