Despite an explicit ban by the prime minister, Saad Hariri, on ministerial visits to Syria in an official capacity, the minister attended the Damascus International Fair, an event to promote the reconstruction of Syria. Disregarding the political speeches and verbal protests that accompanied the visit, with claims that the minister was not representing the government, what is happening is a clear forced normalization of relations between Beirut and Damascus. “The Syrian regime has triumphed over terrorism,” the minister said, praising the criminal Assad regime and helping it to evade any responsibility.
Let us be clear: This was a visit undertaken by a Lebanese minister in the name of Lebanon (not to mention in defiance of the anger of some of the Lebanese people) to a regime that is against the Lebanese and Syrian peoples. The official normalization of relations with the Syrian regime, forcibly imposed, is the culmination of Hezbollah’s achievements over the years, thanks to its military strength and the enormous political and financial support provided by Iran. However, we must not forget that what happened was also a result of the failure of Hezbollah’s opponents, either because of a reduction in political and financial support or because of wrong choices made in politics and management.
It is also important to remind ourselves what happened on the Lebanese-Syrian border at Jroud Arsal over the past few weeks. Hezbollah’s “war” with Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, formerly the Al-Qaeda offshoot the Nusra Front, led to the withdrawal of 120 JFS fighters from their positions on both sides of the border, and their transport to a rebel haven in Idlib. In fact, the propaganda was louder than the actions and their results. The exchange deal did not even get close to the fact that more than one million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon.
In Lebanon, they are putting restraints on refugees and turning a blind eye to the tragedies they bring with them from Syria. The “war of the barren areas” was portrayed as a prelude to finding a Lebanese solution to the refugee issue. In fact, it did not come close to helping the refugees. On the contrary, it has exacerbated their situation.
The party’s decision to send a minister to Damascus on an official visit treads a well-worn path of misplaced loyalty, and exposes its indifference to the plight of Syrian refugees.
Turning a blind eye to their stories can be compared to disregarding other stories, which say that the Assad regime, now forcibly allied to Lebanon because of Hezbollah’s pressure and support, does not want the refugees to return. The Syrian regime today controls more than 80 percent of the areas from which the refugees have been displaced, but it shows no positive intention regarding their return. Not only that, but Bashar Assad himself has said that the Syrian social fabric is better off without the displaced Syrians. Perhaps Hezbollah does not want their return either. For the party and Iran, Syrian welfare is a lot more important than Lebanese welfare. The refugees, if they returned to their homes, would constitute a demographic bloc that would rearrange the sectarian map in the areas of Syria where Hezbollah has seized control.
The Lebanese management of the Syrian refugee crisis is a matter of political and moral arrogance, especially when Lebanon takes the side of the regime that caused the suffering of the refugees in the first place, with the full support of a Lebanese political party.
Against this disgraceful background, Hezbollah’s minister took a step forward to pave the road for the normalization of relations between Damascus and Beirut. This is the same road that has already been taken to smuggle plans and weapons to kill us and many others.
Hezbollah has always openly pledged allegiance to these murderers. Once again, it is handing Lebanon over to them.
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer.