Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Situation in Lebanon

Delivered in Plenary - March 8th 2005

Mr President

Lebanon has a recent history of civil war and a complex ethnic and religious balance. It has never been fully recognised as independent by neighbouring Syria, which has not even bothered to open an embassy there, claiming Beirut is too near Damascus. Instead, Syria has promoted through its pan-Arab Ba’athist doctrine a ‘greater Syria’ concept.

Pressure is now mounting on Syria from Saudi Arabia, Russia, the US and Israel to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. However, President al-Assad has only agreed to implement the terms of the Taif Accord of 1989, which obliges Syria to redeploy its 14 000-strong army to the eastern Bekaa Valley, because he is buying time, and he has so far ignored the more comprehensive UN Security Council Resolution 1559. But the heat is now on, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, with the so-called cedar revolutionaries on the streets of Beirut. These mainly Druze and Maronite Christians are blaming the one-party Syrian dictatorship for their country’s problems.

If the Lebanese demonstrators have their way in the May election, their victory at the polls could signal the end of 30 years of economic and political co-dependence, but it would also make al-Assad’s position a lot shakier. Hizbollah, the international terrorist executive arm of Iran and Syria, which is based in Lebanon but increasingly working to undermine the Palestinian Authority and peace with Israel, is threatened by its Syrian protector’s withdrawal. Hizbollah has 12 MPs in the Lebanese Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers is therefore reluctant to ban it, claiming there is a difference between its civilian political activities and its military wing. Hizbollah itself makes no such distinction.

France, a traditional friend of the Arab world, is leading this resistance in the Council, with Belgian, Swedish, Irish and Spanish backing. The latter is being particularly hypocritical as the Spanish Government was quite happy to ban Herri Batasuna and eject its MPs from the Spanish Parliament. Why, then, is Hizbollah not banned by the EU until it renounces the use of suicide bombers against innocent civilians and recognises the State of Israel’s right to exist?