The Assassination of "Mr. Lebanon"

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Last Wednesday, February 15, 2005, as mosque public address systems blared and Church bells rang, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese mourners from all walks of life, some shouting slogans, some carrying large banners, others chanting mellifluous Qur’anic verses, turned out to bid their last farewell to one of their best – Rafiq Hariri, two times prime minister of Lebanon (1992-98 and 2000-04).

Hariri has come to be known as “Mr. Lebanon,” and deservingly so. He was the man who almost single-handedly brought his nation back on its feet after a long 15-year civil war that had devastated its economy and turned Beirut as the most insecure place on earth. When others had abandoned Lebanon, he stepped forward. When no investor would dream of investing in Lebanon, he used his own money to restoring Lebanon, utterly destroyed by the Israeli and American heavy bombardments and air raids in 1982.

Hariri was a self-made billionaire. Unlike other prominent politicians in Lebanon who are/were members of traditional political elite, he was the son of a farmer and greengrocer from the port city of Sidon. In 1965, at the age of 21, he moved to Saudi Arabia. In 1969, he set up his subcontracting firm CICONEST that gradually emerged as a major player in construction business. With the acquisition of the French construction giant Ogur in the late 1970s, he became the owner of the largest construction empire in the Arab world. By the early 1980s, he had become one of the 100 richest men in the world and his business empire expanded to include a network of banks, as well as companies in insurance and publishing.

In spite of all his riches, Hariri never forgot his roots. He poured millions of dollars into philanthropic projects in Lebanon, which was embroiled in war at the time. In 1979, he established the Hariri Foundation for Culture and Higher Education, which paid tuition fees for thousands of Lebanese students at universities in Lebanon, Europe and the United States. That same year, he founded the Islamic Institute of Higher Education in Sidon. In 1983, he built a high school, a university, a hospital, and a large sports center in Kfar Falous. He also contributed heavily to reconstruction projects during and after the civil war.

During the 1980s, Hariri acted as King Fahd’s personal emissary to Lebanon. His construction company built a new presidential palace in Damascus as a gift to President Hafez al-Asad of Syria. In the 1980s and ’90s, he mediated between Damascus and various political figures in Lebanon. In 1992, he became the prime minister of Lebanon in its first post-war election. Economic growth initially rebounded and inflation fell, and the Lebanese currency stabilized. In 1996, after election victory, he remained prime minister. However, by 1998 the Lebanese economy, with a national debt of $18.3 billion (debt servicing alone accounted for 40% of the governmental budget), was on the verge of collapse, and the Syrian regime began to see Hariri as a liability. Army commander Emile Lahoud was installed as president. Soon Hariri lost power struggle with Lahoud and resigned. Selim al-Hoss became the new prime minister. Over the next two years, the country descended into economic recession.

In 2000, after Hariri and his political allies triumphed at the polls, he was again appointed the prime minister. The economic crisis that had hit Lebanon offered little hope for a miraculous recovery. The IMF and World Bank put intense pressure on Hariri for economic reforms and restructuring the bureaucracy.[1] In June 2001, shortly after Bashir al-Asad came to power, Syria pulled out its troops from Beirut and surrounding areas. However, Hariri’s relationship with Syria gradually deteriorated. He opposed the extension of Lahoud’s term, and in October 2004 resigned in protest after Syria put its weight behind a constitutional amendment that allowed a 3-year extension to Lahoud’s term of office.

Hariri had both friends and foes. To the neocons and Israeli policy makers, he was too anti-Israel. To the Syrians and their Lebanese allies, he was anti-Syrian, accusing him of being behind the US-backed UN Security Council resolution last September that called for a Syrian troop withdrawal. To the leftists, he was too pro-American. To radical Muslims, he was too pro-Saudi. Hariri also had business enemies who hated him for his real estate and media-empire.

Assassinations of prominent politicians are not new in Lebanon. The 1980s witnessed a wave of murder mysteries, mostly involving bombs that are difficult to ascertain the perpetrators. Two newly-elected presidents –” Bashir Gemayel (Jumayyil) and Rene Muawad – were killed by such bombs in 1982 and 1989, respectively. Prime Minister Rashid Karami died because of a bomb explosion in a helicopter he was traveling in 1987. Shaykh Hassan Khaled, the Mufti of the Republic, was killed similarly in 1989. In May of 2002, Palestinian military leader Ahmed Jibril was killed by a bomb blast that ripped through his car in Beirut. Earlier that year, notorious Eli Hobeika, responsible for the massacre of Palestinian refugees in 1982 was also killed in a bomb blast. In none of these cases, the culprits were apprehended or brought to justice.

Hariri was cautious, and thus only moved with his entourage of bodyguards in a convoy of heavily armoured Mercedes that was equipped with a device designed to impede would be car bombers. Unfortunately, on Monday, February 14, he was killed in a car bomb on the very waterfront he rebuilt after the civil war.

The assassination could not have come at a more ominous time. Within hours of his assassination, fingers were pointed at Syria by Israel and the United States.[2] Syria denies any involvement. The Lebanese opposition has demanded that the government steps down. The Lebanese government has asked a Swiss team to investigate the murder.

The answer to the question on who has done it may lie in the larger question –” cui bono –” who benefits –” from the killing.

Shortly after the bomb blast, an unknown group “Group for Advocacy and Jihad in the Levant” claimed responsibility for the killing before another unknown group “al-Qaida Organization of the Levant” dismissed any involvement. (Levant or Bilad as-Sham in Arabic historically included Syria, Palestine/Israel, Jordan and Lebanon.) Noted Middle Eastern analysts see no reason for the so-called Jihadists to target Hariri.[3]

From eyewitness reports of Robert Fisk and BBC reporters, Hariri’s death strongly suggests involvement by a major intelligence agency. It was meticulously planned on the basis of ‘strong and accurate intelligence’ about Hariri’s movements.[4] The size and precision of the explosion left the intended victim no chance of survival. It was outside the means and capabilities of small splinter groups to carry out this crime. That puts, Syria and Israel, two regional powers, (outside the CIA) having the means and capabilities, as most likely culprits.

In my opinion, it is only Israel that benefits from Hariri’s assassination and not Syria. Hariri’s relationship with Syria did not sour to the level that would call for his assassination. Asad’s regime could ill-afford to dig its own grave through such a foolish act, and not at this time anyway.[5] The regime has been in the hot seat since the U.S. occupation of Iraq with the White House alleging Syria on numerous occasions of not sealing off its 300-mile long border to deter ‘foreign terrorists’ from entering Iraq.

The neoconservatives in the Bush administration, most with dual allegiance to Israel, have long planned to go after Syria. In a 1996 paper entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” Richard Perle, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Doug Feith, David and Meyrav Wurmser, James Colbert and Robert Lowenburg outlined for Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israeli Prime Minister, a new strategic vision: “Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq –” an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right –” as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions."[6]

So came the Iraq war and Saddam had to go. In 2003, President Bush signed into law H.R. 1858, the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003.[7] Then came the UN Security Council Resolution 1559 in 2004 demanding Syrian forces to leave Lebanon. (It is believed that Syria still has 14,000 forces stationed in Lebanon.) In recent months the neocon hawks launched a public campaign with a series of articles in their favored press organs –” the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and the Weekly Standard – accusing Damascus of supporting the insurgency inside Iraq and calling for military actions against Syria.[8]

For years, Israel has blamed Syria for aiding Hijbullah, the Shi’ite group in Lebanon that forced Israel to leave southern Lebanon. If the blame for the murder of Hariri could now be placed against Syria, pushing Bush to take action, it would be like killing two birds with the same stone.

Could Israel then be the culprit that carried out the murder in order to facilitate its strategic objectives in the region? Highly possible. Political assassination comes easy with the rogue state and its intelligence agency Mossad, especially with a war criminal –” Sharon – responsible for the mass murder of tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian people, now heading the government in Israel. Israel has never denied that its agents carried out the first car-bomb assassination in Beirut when Palestinian author and journalist Ghassan Kanafani, affiliated with the PFLP, was killed with his niece Lamees on July 8, 1972.[9] Nor did Israel deny the responsibility for the assassination of Abu Hassan Salamah, the Palestinian intelligence chief, who was blown up by a massive bomb that shook West Beirut in 1979.

Instability and political unrest in the Middle East helps Israel prolong its occupation. In recent months, some of the Palestinians, posing as members of a fake al-Qaida cell in Gaza, were found to be working for the Mossad towards justification of Israeli intervention. Sources inside Iraq, both Shi’a and Sunni, have been saying that the “mysterious” car bombings and blasts in mosques, shrines and processions, aimed at fueling sectarian violence, are not the work of Iraqi resistance, but of those affiliated with the Mossad and the CIA working towards American hegemony.[10]

The assassination of Hariri matches very well (almost like a carbon copy) with previous activities of the Mossad. It provides Washington the necessary pretext to broaden its ‘war on terror’ to punish Syria and Hijbullah, something that Israel and its neocon friends have long wanted. The ‘Amen corner’ inside the Capitol Hill also would not require any solid evidence, much like the WMD case in Iraq, for approving punitive measures against Syria and its allies.

Hariri’s assassination is, therefore, more than a tragedy for Lebanon and a Middle East that has yet to find peace and stability since the Zionist state was created as a cancerous entity.

Nearly 91 years ago, on June 28, 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, set in train a series of events that eventually led to the outbreak of World War I. Only time would tell what Rafiq Hariri’s assassination would lead to.

Notes:

[1]. Dossier: Rafiq Hariri by Gary Gambill and Ziad Abdelnour, Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, vol. 3, no. 7, July 2001.

[2]. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said that there was “no doubt” that Syria was “uncomfortable with the prospect of elections in Lebanon, and the last thing they want is to be forced to leave Lebanon.” (International Herald Tribune, Feb. 15, 2005) U.S. recalled its ambassador from Syria.

[3]. See, the BBC News, Feb. 14-16, 2005; The Roving Eye –” from Baghdad to Beirut –” by Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, Feb. 18, 2005; Rime Allaf, Middle East analyst at London’s Royal Institute of International Affaris said, “This is the work of an intelligence service, not a small group.” (Reuters, Feb. 14, 2005)

[4]. Lebanon fears turbulent times ahead by Jim Muir, BBC News, Feb. 16, 2005.

[5]. Professor Bassam Haddam, a Levant expert at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, says, “I would be very shocked if Syria has a hand in it because it’s not in the position to rock the boat at this point.” (Jim Lobe: Hariri Killing Sure to Bolster US Hawks, Inter Press Service)

[6]. David Wurmser is Dick Cheney’s top Middle East advisor. The Undersecretary of Defense, Feith and Wurmser have strong ties to Israel’s settler movement.

[7]. http://www.fas.org/asmp/resources/govern/108th/pl_108_175.pdf

[8]. In a Weekly Standard editorial, William Kristol wrote: “We could bomb Syrian military facilities. We could go across the border in force to stop infiltration; … we could covertly help or overtly support the Syrian opposition…”

[9] Ghassan Kanafani by Anni Kanafani, pub. The Association of Arab American University Graduates, Inc., (1972).

[10]. Pepe Escobar, op. cit.

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