Tuesday, March 15, 2005

One Day in Beirut

It was the largest demonstration in Lebanon's long history; more than 800,000 people--roughly one out of every four Lebanese-- crowded into Martyr's Square in Beirut, protesting Syria's continuing military presence, and domination of Lebanese affairs.

The protest rally was, in a word, stunning. It came only days after 500,000 pro-Syrian demonstrators, led by the terrorist group Hizballah, gathered in the same square. After that demonstration, some pundits speculated that Hizballah's presence, backed by Syrian military muscle in the nearby Bekka Valley, would intimiated the Lebanese opposition.

Quite the contrary. The throngs that gathered for anti-Syria rally were roughly 60% larger than the rent-a-crowd turned out by Hizballah's thugs. And the protestors made their message perfectly clear: Syria's presence in Lebanon must end, and end quickly.

Meanwhile, the Syrians are supposedly working on phase one of their military withdrawal. Damascus is moving key units to new positions in the Bekka Valley, and Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) has been observed vacating its Beirut headquarters.

While these developments are clearly encouraging, it's worth remembering that Syria won't give up its position in Lebanon without a struggle. There are literally dozens of Syrian military garrisons in Lebanon, and withdrawal activity has not been observed at all locations. Additionally, many SMI agents may attempt to stay in Beirut (and other locations) by "going native," and continuing to gather intelligence and exert influence.

The world community needs to sustain pressure on Damascus, and demand a complete--and verifiable--withdrawal from Lebanon. Democracy is finally on the march in Lebanon, and Syria should not be allowed to derail the movement.

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