The arrest of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s man in Lebanon, former Minister of Information Michel Semaha, after being caught plotting to carry out a series of bomb attacks was earth-shaking on two levels. One, the Syrian regime had to assign security operations to a politician instead of its usual militias, and two, none of its allies did anything to support Samaha. This shows that Lebanon is at a significant crossroad vis-à-vis its relation to Syria.
After Samaha was charged, everyone in Lebanon thought that hell will rise and that roads all over the country will be blocked with burning tires and raging mobs. Many people stayed home that night assuming that another May 7 will take place. Samaha is supposed to be a big deal. As it turned out, he’s not. Well, not anymore.
Obviously, defending Samaha after he himself confessed did not make any sense. Moreover, pro-Iranian groups such as Hezbollah would do anything to protect the Syrian regime, but they will not sacrifice themselves for a falling Assad, especially not in Lebanon. Assad using Samaha to implement his terrorist attacks in Lebanon means that Hezbollah was not willing to go that far and that the Party of God still has an interest in safeguarding Lebanon from the imminent fire Assad has been threatening to unleash on his smaller neighbor.
Pro-regime media in Lebanon could not just ignore the issue. However, instead of chalking the whole thing up to the usual “universal conspiracy” against the resistance,Al-Akhbar and As-Safir columnists just criticized the ISF, mainly the Information Branch, for the aggressive way Samaha was taken in and published articles warning about the threat of the Salafists and reminding Lebanese about “terrorists” smuggling arms from Lebanon into Syria. The evidence against Samaha must have been too strong.
It is noteworthy that both Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Premier Najib Miqati have commended the ISF for their successful operation that saved Lebanon from “imminent danger.” On the very local political level, this means that the current government, which is widely considered as Syria’s second government, is now showing clear signs of division among its factions.
So what does that tell us? First, the Syrian regime is certainly losing Lebanon, the government and its trusted allies. Second, no one is protected anymore. If Samaha was left to drown, then anyone, no matter how close they are to Assad, could face the same destiny.
But this arrest is not just about the man. It also means that the story Samaha has been selling as Assad’s media advisor, that Al-Qaeda or Salafist groups are behind the violence in Syria and that the minorities are endangered, is not credible anymore. As it turned out, the explosions he was planning were going to be attributed to Al-Qaeda, thereby strengthening the “fear the Islamists” feelings among Lebanese and Syrians.
Samaha was not charged alone. General Ali Mamluk, the Syrian National Security chief, was also charged by the Lebanese authorities with preparing “terrorist attacks” through bombing campaigns, as well as assassination attempts against political and religious figures in Lebanon. Whatever Samaha and the Syrian regime’s officers and media said earlier in regard to this scenario should be taken with a huge grain of salt. It is obvious now that such attacks are fabricated and implemented by the regime’s dirty network.
Beyond Samaha, the most significant part is that this is the first time ever that the Syrian regime has been caught in the act in Lebanon, with strong evidence coming not from outsiders, but from the Lebanese authorities. Mamluk does not represent himself in this case. He stands for the Syrian regime, and the Syrian regime has been charged in Lebanon.
This raises the most obvious question: Why is the Syrian Ambassador still in Beirut? Many politicians and civil society groups started to call for sending the Syrian Ambassador in Lebanon packing. Of course, the Lebanese government is not expected to take any action before the court gives its final verdict, and this will probably take some time.
However, things will never be the same again between Lebanon and Syria. Assad’s aura in Lebanon is fading, and sooner or later, the government and political factions will have to do something to avoid further humiliation and risk, at least until elections.