Frankly, they could not have pulled this stunt any sooner! The UN investigation has screeched to a deafening halt. Not that that matters anyhow, for the Syrians have been behaving as confident as ever, and some of their trusted mouthpieces, like the stalwart Patrick Seale, even occasionally admit that they did kill Hariri as a legitimate act of self defense. Two months ago, Presidents Bush and Chirac frequently mentioned Lebanon in speeches and press conferences; today, both heads of state are moot. In short, Lebanon has not been this isolated since the assassination of Hariri.
Domestically, we face a stalemate between the March 14 forces on one side and the Hizballah-Amal-FPM Tripartite on another. The country effectively has no government. Hizballah continues to conduct its private war against Israel in the South. There is even talk that the Tripartite is considering eliminating the March 14 parliamentary majority by walking out of Parliament and calling for new elections. Of course, this time, there would be no question as to who Baabda-Aley will go to. As for the other electoral districts, including Beirut (which was won without a real fight by the Future Movement), they definitely will not yield the decisive victories that they did back in June. In other words, the March 14 alliance is cornered, and its hands are tied behind its back. There is a real threat of returning to the status quo ante (pre-February 14 – with the sole exception of Aoun and the FPM’s presence in Parliament).
Consequently, Khaddam’s interview could not be more important. It is intended to help break the March 14 alliance out of its current rut. The Hariris have saved this card for exactly such an opportunity. Khaddam is no Husam Husam. He is a respected veteran Syrian official who is extremely difficult to discredit. His public testimony is intended to shame the opponents of March 14 and remind them of the “Justice” dimension of what is currently playing out within Lebanon and in its relations with Bashar’s regime. Another aspect of this maneuver has to do with Bashar’s judgment. If he cannot be judged in a proper court of law, then the Hariris want him to be judged by public opinion. Thus far they have failed miserably in winning the public relations battle. This initiative may be their first concerted effort at dismantling the ridiculous gains that Assad’s regime has made in an equally ridiculous “Arab Street.”
Khaddam’s interview could not have come at a better time for the March 14 alliance. Hizballah, Amal and the FPM are probably planning their countermove. They’re asking questions like: How much do they have to concede to this public relations coup? How can they counter it? Do they actually need to counter it? Or can they simply roll with the punch but stand their ground? The hard reality for the Future Movement and its allies is that if the Tripartite do not budge, I simply do not see what else will budge them. Lebanon is on the brink right now. Political developments can go either way. The ball is now in the Tripartite’s court. Let us wait and see what they do next.