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July 21, 2006

Now It Can Be Said — Syria Occupied Lebanon

After the February 14, 2005 car-bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — a crime U.N. investigators suggested the Syrian government had perpetrated — mainstream news media suddenly began informing readers and viewers of Syria’s 29-year-long “presence” in Lebanon. References to the estimated 14,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon, the uncounted Syrian secret police also operating in the country, and Damascus’ brutal domination of its smaller neighbor became important context to news reports about the assassination and subsequent Lebanese “Cedar Revolution” demonstrations to end Syrian hegemony.

However, in news dispatches these references were rarely to Syria’s “occupation” of Lebanon, even though as many as 35,000 to 40,000 Syrian troops had controlled the country of no more than four million people from 1976 on. In addition to “presence,” the press employed terms like “interest,” “influence,” and “dominance.” This in contrast to regular mention of Israel’s 1982 -2000 “occupation” of a south Lebanon “security zone,” let alone Israel’s post-1967 occupation of the disputed West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights.

Direct references to Syrian occupation of Lebanon were more likely to be found on the commentary pages.

So it’s worth noting that on July 19, in news articles in both The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun, the words Syria, Lebanon and occupation appear in the same sentence. In “Bush Supports Israel’s Move Against Hezbollah,” Post staff writers Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks, report:

“Syria, which ended a 29-year occupation of Lebanon when it withdrew 14,000 troops last year, is trying to get back into Lebanon in violation of U.N. Resolution 1559, Bush said.”

The Sun’s Middle East correspondent John Murphy, in a report headlined “Diplomacy Stalls; Israel, Hezbollah press attacks amid cease-fire talks,” writes:

“President Bush said he suspects Syria is trying to reassert influence in Lebanon more than a year after Damascus ended what had effectively been a long-term military occupation of its smaller, weaker neighbor.”

What has changed? Perhaps the media are taking cues from U.S. and other governments critical of Syrian and Iranian for backing Hezbollah and Hamas attacks against Israel. The press might feel it’s now safe, ex post facto, to call an occupation by its name — in this case (unlike the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Golan) an illegitimate occupation of one Arab country by another.

Posted by ER at July 21, 2006 02:13 PM

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