by Patrick Lang (bio below)

Syrian President Bashar Assad made surprise journeys to Saudi Arabia and Egypt on Sunday for talks on finding a face-saving solution to a UN request to interview him about the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. At a summit with Assad in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, Saudi King Abdullah called for an improvement to crisis-stricken relations between Damascus and Beirut in the name of regional security.

Abdullah “asserted the need to consolidate and strengthen Syrian-Lebanese relations,” said a joint Saudi-Syrian statement issued after the summit.

Lebanese-Syrian relations should be improved “in all sectors in order to protect the interests of the two brotherly countries and the security of the region,” said the statement read on Saudi state television.

The statement said the two parties agreed on “activating the joint Saudi-Syrian committee, and to intensify the communication between them in order to serve the Arab and Islamic issues.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal came to Damascus earlier Sunday and met with Assad and Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa. He said he had traveled to Syria to prepare for Assad’s “important” Saudi visit, but refused to give any details.” Beirut Daily Star

We really are laughable from the Arab point of view. For many years now Saudi Arabia has labored and schemed discretely to reclaim Lebanon and Syria from the clutches of various Christian and heretical Muslim groups and to return these countries to the bosom of the Umma (Sunni dominated, of course). Rafik Hariri was an instrument of that policy for a decade or more. His murder prevented a return to power in Lebanon in which he would clearly have been a continuing asset of his former homeland, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Abd al-Halim Khaddam, now bleating of “reform” Paris was one of Hariri’s principal allies in Damascus and as a Sunni member of the Syrian Baath oligarchy one of the larger recipients of Hariri “channeled” largess.

The US, France have played a very useful role from the Saudi point of view. They have pressured Bashar Assad to the point that he believes in his own vulnerability. He knows where the pressure really has come from. This has been a pressure exerted in Washington and Paris, but influenced by regional politics and so he has gone to “Canossa” to make his peace with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He has gone to accept Saudi hegemony in the Levant.

The side trip to Egypt is insignificant, a face saving gesture for all concerned.

Now, Washington will have to deal with the Kingdom. If the “kowtow” was convincing, Abdullah et al will not want their “satellite” disturbed much more.

It should be interesting to watch.

Pat Lang

Col. Patrick W. Lang (Ret.), a highly decorated retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces, served as “Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East, South Asia and Terrorism” for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and was later the first Director of the Defense Humint Service. Col. Lang was the first Professor of the Arabic Language at the United States Military Academy at West Point. For his service in the DIA, he was awarded the “Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive.” He is a frequent commentator on television and radio, including MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann (interview), CNN and Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room (interview), PBS’s Newshour, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” (interview), and more .

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Drinking the Kool-Aid,” Middle East Policy Council Journal, Vol. XI, Summer 2004, No. 2

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