Controversy over the comments of Syria's former vice-president persists, as does the bitter aftertaste of his treachery, writes Ibrahim Nafie
Since former Syrian vice-president Abdul- Halim Khaddam made his remarks about Syria, major Arab countries have been engaged in an intense damage-limitation exercise. Khaddam gave Syria's adversaries the ammunition they needed to escalate their offensive against Damascus. Those adversaries may claim it's about Rafik Al-Hariri's assassination, but everyone knows that what's at stake is the future of the region, not a murder case. Khaddam's testimony came at a time when Syria, with the help of major Arab countries, has been deflecting the politicisation of Detlev Mehlis's report. With a new judge leading the investigation, Syria was willing to cooperate professionally with the investigating commission to the best of its means. Just as it seemed that the investigating commission was about to resume its work in an atmosphere of objectivity, Khaddam gave an interview in which he lashed out against Syrian leaders of all levels.
A few hours after Khaddam's interview, regional and international parties were reacting as if Khaddam said the truth, as if his words were damning evidence against the Syrian regime. The investigating commission asked to meet the Syrian president and foreign minister. Several countries began threatening Syria in the same language we've heard in the run-up to the war on Iraq. Admittedly, the differences are considerable between Iraq's case and Syria's. But certain international quarters, and regional ones too, wish to see Syria meet Iraq's fate. This course of events brings peril to all Arab countries without exception. It is part of a hidden agenda to reshape the region.
There is no doubt in my mind that the current pressure on Damascus has less to do with the assassination of former prime minister Al-Hariri, and the crimes that followed in Lebanon, than with the plot to undermine Syria as an Arab country. Syria is being targeted as part of a large scheme to reshape the entire region and bring it under the control of non-Arab parties. This is why it is crucial for us to take a clear stand. This is why it is important for us to stand by Syria and insist that the investigating commission perform its task in a professional rather than a political fashion.
At the time international pressures on Syria escalated, Arab countries were trying to defuse the affair. It was essential to relieve Syria of pressure. It was essential to maintain Syria's sovereignty even as the investigation proceeds into Al-Hariri's murder. The investigating commission has reacted rather hastily to Khaddam's statement. It has treated his words as irrefutable evidence. Its request to meet the Syrian president sounded like a subpoena; so did the commission's demand to interview Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Sharaa.
Anticipating Syrian resistance to the commission's demands, Egypt and Saudi Arabia sprung into action, trying to find a compromise solution. It was clear that the commission's demands were shrouded in political motivations. It was also clear that any request involving the head of any Arab or non-Arab state would entail certain complications. In an attempt to contain the impending crisis, President Hosni Mubarak made brief visits to Saudi Arabia and France. The Saudi foreign minister went to see Al-Assad in Damascus. And the Syrian president paid visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This was a message that Syria will not be left alone in the face of international pressure. Major Arab countries are determined to see the investigating commission work in a professional rather than a political matter. They are also determined to uncover much of the mystery that surrounds current developments in the region.
It is evident that Khaddam has made a deal. He has sold his country for personal gains. Some sources say that Khaddam is telling Western countries that he should be the future president of Syria. Khaddam has spent over 40 years in various political posts in his country, and yet he seems to be driven by the kind of ambition that makes one sell out one's own country and tread on the bodies of compatriots to accede to power. Khaddam may have his own personal reasons for a vendetta, but one cannot rule out a political, perhaps even economic deal. It is sad to see how low some politicians can stoop. It is even sadder to see our nations having to put up with this brand of politicians.