The Lebanese Quagmire

The commemoration of the 58th independence anniversary in Lebanon took the aspect of a confrontation between the government and the opposition. The police crackdown on the students of St Joseph University was qualified as a mistake even by some members of Mr. Hariri’s cabinet. According to Lebanese sources [2] For his part, Mr. Michel al Mour, Minister of the Interior, acknowledged that ” it was a mistake that was supposed not to happen”! And if the Maronite Patriarch Nasr allah Safir, did not make any declaration that could be exploited by such or such party, some people close to the Government talked of a political over- exploitation of a minor event [4]. Thus, apparently, for one time we see leftists and rightists agreeing upon a single demand: That Syria leaves Lebanon! This is not what we may call a ” minor event” – as it has been labeled by the Interior Minister, M. al Mour. For the hostility between the two camps has rarely been overcome and transcended by a purpose far beyond the contradictions and the paradoxes. But what is reproached to the Syrians and to the Lebanese government seems to be very motivating for those students whose movement has soon bypassed St Joseph campus and stretched to other universities.

Nonetheless, the students’ disturbance is not the only trouble for Mr. Hariri’s government. And though the Syrians are observing it with a lot of suspicion and -maybe- some worries, they keep reminding the Lebaneses of the menaces still hovering on their heads. On the southern borders, the Israeli army is still ready to invade their country if such is the will of General Sharon. And the opposition answer to this argument may be summed up in these questions: would Syria defend Lebanon against an Israeli invasion? Where were the Syrians when the Israelis occupied the country and besieged Beirut? Why did they not shoot a single bullet against the invaders? Moreover, if the Syrians are so strong as to oppose Israel’s belligerence, why instead of keeping 35000 soldiers in Lebanon, did they not send them to liberate the Golan Heights?

In the same process, some observers hint now overtly to the Syrian involvement in the darkest events of the Lebanese civil war. For them, Syria’s role is something that has to be cleared out, once and for all. They acknowledge that the Lebanese government is committed to a 1991 general amnesty that protects all Lebanese citizens from prosecution for wartime activities. However, they notice that this amnesty has been selectively lifted to prosecute (or threaten with prosecution) Syria’s enemies, most notably former Lebanese Forces commander Samir Geagea, who is serving several life sentences for ordering assassinations in the late 1980s. Why Phalange security chief, Eli Hobeika has never been harmed? Some of them wonder. And the answer they give is: because he is protected by the Syrians!

However, such an accusation is not exclusive to the Lebanese opposition. Some Palestinian sources remind us that the Sabra and Shatila massacre occurred after a Syrian agent, Habib Shartouni, a member of the National Socialist Syrian Party, planted a bomb in the Phalange party headquarters, resulting in the death of Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel along with 40 Phalange members (September 14, 1982). This same Shartouni was sentenced to death, but was released by his Syrian masters after serving only six years in a Lebanese prison.

Eli Hobeika, on the other hand, who directly commanded the slaughter of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila, not only went un-tried in Lebanon under Syrian control, but also today is the only Phalange leader who escaped assassination arrest or deportation. He even held many high-ranking positions, and served three times as a minister in various Lebanese governments.

Saleh al-Na’ami, a senior political commentator for the Hamas weekly, Al- Risala, wrote after the BBC/Panorama program about Sharon, saying: ” with all honesty, there is a certain degree of hypocrisy in the Arab coverage of the Sabra and Shatila massacres! It is true that Sharon bears responsibility for these massacres, but the people who committed these war crimes with their own hands, were never tried”.

Eli Hobeika ” who was head of security in the Lebanese Forces when they committed these massacres and who supervised the mass killings and the rapes” went on Mr. Al- Na’ami, ” boasted in the BBC film itself that he was never, nor will he ever be tried, and that he lives completely free. The same goes for Fadi Afram, the commander of the Lebanese Forces, who had an actual role in committing the massacres.”

For the Al-Risala’s journalist, it does not make any doubt that it is well the Syrian government who not only protected Hobeika but also ” rewarded him two years after the massacre, by appointing him as a minister in the Lebanese government.”[6]

According to some sources, Mughniyah is the alleged mastermind of the June 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, during which US navy diver Robert Stethem was murdered. Mughniyah is also believed to be responsible for planning the 1983 bombing of the US marine barracks in Beirut which killed 241 servicemen, as well the abduction of several American civilians in Lebanon during 1980s.Izzidine and Atwi, described by the FBI as members of Hizbullah’s terrorism apparatus are accused of having participated in the planning and execution of the TWA hijacking. [8]

Some Lebanese bankers did not hide their worries. The Economy might suffer from American sanctions they contended. Foreign banks not complying with Washington’s requests can be excluded from the US market and have their assets blocked. Others warned of a flight of capital if customers find they cannot perform normal transactions. This would be a tremendous blow to the government trying to fund the country’s huge public debt and bolster foreign reserves.

On November 11, US National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice raised the stakes claiming that the Lebanese government ” needed to reintegrate into international community in order to survive economically.” And she added: ” Lebanon would not succeed in securing international financial assistance unless Beirut met Washington’s demands. Lebanon’s very existence depends on such compliance”. [10]. The army operation in Taamir took place less than 24 hours after an explosive charge rocked a military checkpoint at the entrance of Ain al-Hilweh Thursday evening. The blast was the second of its kind in less than 10 days.

Nobody was arrested, but the message was clear: the Government did not appreciate to be threatened. This is also another reason for the reluctance of the Lebanese authorities to comply with the American demands. They actually fear that after some years of relative civil peace, responding positively to the American request may cause an atmosphere of unrest and instability. The questions some of them ask are: What did the Americans do to help Lebanon? And how may anyone imagine that it is easy for Beirut to dissociate itself from the Syrian fate, when the Arab lands are still occupied by Israel?


[2]– Idem.

[4] : L’opposition dénonce l’irruption des forces de l’ordre…November 26, 2001.

[6]– Gary C. Gambill: Lebanon ambivalent towards US war on terror. MEIB. Oct. 2001.

[8]– Jim Quilty: Financial Brinkmanship. . Nov.26, 2001.