The International Herald Tribune today ran a good column reporting that a recent belliegernt speech by Syrian dictator Bashar Assad was tantamount to "a declaration of war against the international community and neighboring Lebanon."
Assad, it seems, has made the strategic decision to defy the international investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which was probably carried out by Syrian agents. Assad understands that this decision will likely lead to the imposition of international sanctions on Syria even though, as the column notes, sanctions would be more harmful to Syria than they were against Iraq because Syria doesn’t have Iraqi levels of oil to fall back on.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops in Iraq are putting military pressure on Syria through an increasing number of incursions into Syrian territory.
As pressure increases on Assad and relations between Syria and Lebanon continue to deteriorate, watch for Assad to pressure both Lebanon and the international community by activating his ace in the hole—authorizing an attack by Syrian-backed Hezbollah on Israel. This could achieve three goals: divert international attention from Syria, rally other Arab states to its side, and remind the Lebanese that Syria still has a proxy militia located in Lebanon that will look out for Syria’s interests.