- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

The international community is seemingly speaking with one voice to the Syrian regime, and Bashar Assad is getting the unmistakable message.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Monday for a resolution calling on Syria to cooperate with a U.N. investigation of the Feb. 14 slayings of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and more than 20 others in Lebanon. The resolution demands that Syria detain suspects in the case, and urges a travel ban and freeze of assets of all suspects. Syria is threatened with “further consequences” if it fails to comply with the investigation. Last week, a U.N. investigation headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis found that Syrian and Lebanese officials were probably involved in the Hariri killing and that the assassination required considerable resources and planning. Syria has grudgingly said it will cooperate with the investigation, but so far has been incriminatingly dragging its heels.

The broad international pressure on Syria marks a rare convergence of world powers on an issue involving the Middle East. On the question of Mr. Hariri’s murder and general Syrian interference in Lebanon, the United States, France and Russia agree that Mr. Assad must be brought to account. In September of last year, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1559, which was sponsored by the United States and France, calling for the withdrawal of foreign (read Syrian) troops from Lebanon.

Lebanon has a long, tortured history of trampled sovereignty, civil war and political assassinations. Palestinians have launched attacks on Israel from Lebanese soil. Israel has launched numerous strikes in Lebanon and occupied parts of the south until 2000. Since 1976, when Syria invaded, it has controlled Lebanon like its fiefdom. Damascus caused widespread outrage last year after its proxies in parliament voted to extend the presidency of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose presidency is now in question. Given that tumultuous past, a Syrian plan to kill Mr. Hariri, which appears to be so glaringly self-defeating in hindsight, may have appeared feasible to Syrian officials in February.

The foreign pressure is affecting Mr. Assad domestically, leaving him so weak that Middle East experts have begun discussing the possibility of an eventual overthrow. Mr. Assad and his family preside over a secular Ba’athist regime. Since the Assads belong to a minority Allawite sect within a majority-Sunni country, their leadership has long been believed to be vulnerable. Mr. Assad has compensated for that potential vulnerability with bloody repression of political dissidents. That dependence on violence may have fatally backfired on Feb. 14. Mr. Assad today faces an existential threat but might have little choice but to meet U.N. demands.

Unfortunately, U.N. action doesn’t always follow U.N. words. Syria and its dictator must face serious consequences if U.N. demands are not met.

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