Lebanon: Jumblatt Shifts Syria Line
By: Firas Choufi
Published Saturday, October 26, 2013
Walid Jumblatt is not the same person who led the "Cedar Revolution" in 2005. He is no longer enthusiastic about the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Today, the Progressive Socialist Party leader is back to his realism, or what parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, calls "the patriotic line." Berri says, "In serious times, Jumblatt does not stray from the line, and these are serious times."
Jumblatt's realism does not merely concern Syria; it is also apparent in his recent sharp criticism of March 14, in public and in private. It’s connected to the losing bets on the "promised" US strike against Syria; the irrational demands to isolate a fundamental component of the country, Hezbollah; and demands that the party withdraw from Syria to facilitate the formation of a national unity government.
As the war in Syria intensified, Jumblatt went too far in his propaganda against the Syrian regime. He tried hard to instigate the Druze of Syria against Assad and to persuade soldiers to defect from the Syrian army and join the armed opposition. He provided shelter to several Syrian dissidents and deserting army officers in Chouf and Aley.
A source close to March 8 and Syrian security forces says, "Through close associates, Jumblatt attempted to play a security role inside Syria, especially in Suweida, the Damascus countryside, and even Raqaa.” Jumblatt's efforts ultimately failed and it seems he became convinced that provoking Druze against the regime was a waste of time.
Gradually, Jumblatt's rhetoric changed – from the inevitability of toppling Assad and the commending of al-Nusra Front, to the necessity of dialogue with the regime and participation in Geneva II.
"He leads a minority, which constantly feels anxiety in the middle of majority. He has to protect his neck and that of his sect when states go to war. The man thought that Assad would fall and stood with the winning side," one of Jumblatt's opponents says.
"He is aware that his verbal intervention in Syrian affairs will not make any difference. Therefore, he can escalate against Assad to make up for what he was unable to do internally in Lebanon, per the request of the US and Saudi Arabia.
From the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Jumblatt did not hurt Assad's regime as much as he did after the 2005 Cedar Revolution, which led to the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon. On the contrary, Jumblatt helped provide political backing for Hezbollah and discouraged the party from resorting to arms when Saudi, the US, and March 14 tried to isolate it several times.
The international climate, which two years ago seemed conducive for the enemies of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah, has now dissipated and even played into the hands of Assad and his allies. The US praise of the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is an indication of the magnitude of the shift transpiring in the world, with the US acceding to a Russian role and the Turkish-Saudi retreat, to the benefit of the Iranian regime. After all these transformations, Jumblatt, the "king of pragmatism," could not go against the new current and keep drifting aimlessly in the manner of March 14.
Over the past few months, Jumblatt remained dead set against March 14 proposals for a de facto government or any form of government that might isolate Hezbollah. Each time they promoted a suggestion that did not conform with the principle of traditional Lebanese partnership, he would nip it in the bud.
It would not be difficult for the person who, in August 2009, announced his famous "u-turn," joining Syria and Hezbollah after years of animosity, to declare another sharp turn, two years after renewing the animosity with Syria. Although Assad is beginning to joke about meeting Jumblatt in Syria, and while Jumblatt does not hide his long-term hatred of its regime, senior security officials in Damascus maintain, "Despite the open wounds in Damascus, it is willing to accept him back, regardless of the manner and timing."
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.