How very shrewd
It looks like Syria is playing their 'hearts and minds' cards very cleverly, given their recent setbacks in Lebanon. Following is an excerpt of an e-mail from someone evacuating through Syria to the U.S.
We cleared Lebanese customs by 11.45 and headed toward Syria. As we drove between the Lebanese and Syrian border control points, a throng of smiling Syrians, representing different groups like the Syrian Red Crescent Society, greeted us. Their welcome was kind, and they thanked God (hamdillah aal salameh) for our safety. We were handed free cups of Nescafe, bottles of water, and chocolate biscuits. We were all surprised by the warm reception, and considering our collective state of shock, appreciated the gesture.
The lines at Syrian immigration and border control were long. But, the number of Lebanese was far greater than the foreigners, so some of us got through rather quickly. Monica and I got our visas with no problem, and no bribes. Hers was $16 and mine was a scandalous $56, which I had to pay even though I wasn’t actually staying in Syria, only transiting. The Jordanian border was only two hours away.
By some accounts, Syria has taken in up to 200,000 Lebanese refugees in the recent crisis. That sort of expensive political decision isn't taken lightly:
It may seem an unsustainable level of charity from a country edging toward economic collapse, but the government here expects a big return on the investment. Every child fed, every family housed, aids Syria's chosen image as protector of the Lebanese people. Officials here, and even some Lebanese refugees I spoke with, say the current crisis points to the need for a continued Syrian presence in Lebanon. Only a strong hand like Syria's can control Hezbollah; only Syria can keep Lebanese society from unraveling completely.
I think Syria may well get the return on investment it's looking for; it's difficult to turn your back on a helping hand when you're in need, no matter if there are strings attached. And it goes against decency to rebuke those who have been generous to you in the past.
I sincerely hope the Lebanese can see through this tactic, thank the Syrians for coming to their aid, and follow their own course when the time comes to make that choice once again.