Sunday, February 20, 2005

Lebanon update 

"I don’t think people are just going to forget this. What happened in Lebanon is like September 11, 2001. This will be a point to change everything in this region, more than Iraq. But nobody has a plan for how the change will be."
Anwar Bunni, a leading human rights activist in Syria.

On the trail of the assassins: "Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sending a team led by Ireland's deputy police commissioner to Beirut in the next few days to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri... Annan's decision to send the team is in response to a request from the UN Security Council that he urgently report on 'the circumstances, causes and consequences' of Hariri's killing." Needless to say, the Lebanese government is not amused and says it will boycott the investigation.

Some theories already point to an operation far more sophisticated than a suicide bombing:
" 'The bomb was placed underground, especially (since) the crater was so huge,' said Hisham Jaber, a retired brigadier general and former professor at the Lebanese Military and Staff Command College. 'Even a car with 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of TNT wouldn't create such a crater.'

"Jaber, who inspected the assassination site but is not part of the investigation, said a suicide attack was the least likely cause of the explosion. He noted the crater was near the middle of the road, indicating the bomb was likely placed under the street and not in a parked car. Suspicion that the bomb was under the street increased Friday when the chief military investigator demanded that police investigate recent road works in the area."
Meanwhile, there is already at least one dead end. The Lebanese authorities have pointed their finger at six (or ten) Australian nationals who traveled from Beirut to Australia hours after the assassination. "Traces of TNT powder were recovered from the [aircraft] seats used by some of them," according to Justice Minister Adnan Addum, who added that "these people have links with fundamentalist circles." The Australian Federal Police, who was asked by the Lebanese to investigate, has now cleared the men after interviewing them and after tests showed that the substance on the seats was not an explosive.

The editor of Beirut's "Daily Star", Jamil Mroue, thinks the "Australian connection" is a classic example of a security agencies-generated rumor without substantial evidence: "It is a good example, a small taste of what we suffered in conditions of security agencies running our life where basically we don't know exactly what is going on, where our judiciary is mutilated and neutered, where a citizen does not have the reliable information, and this has been the pattern that we have lived under for quite some time. And that extends after our Prime Minister's assassination. It's no surprise to us."

The Lebanese intifada, or who's who: The Lebanese opposition leader Samir Frangieh on Friday: "In response to the criminal and terrorist policy of the Lebanese and Syrian authorities, the Lebanese opposition declares the democratic and peaceful intifada (uprising) for independence." (in a statement supported by one third of Lebanese parliamentarians)

AP: "At the flower-strewn grave of Rafik Hariri, a woman made the sign of the cross next to a man who spread his hands and solemnly recited the fatiha, the first verse of Islam's holy book, the Quran. It was an extraordinary scene in a country where Christians and Muslims have feuded for centuries and fought a bitter, 15-year civil war - a sign perhaps that the Lebanese finally are learning to live at peace with each other."

Well, yes and no. The civil war has ended fifteen years ago, and since then new alliances have been emerging, the trend which predates the Hariri assassination (as Rami G. Khouri, editor-at-large of Beirut's "Daily Star" reminds us, "in the last five months since Syria forcefully engineered an unusual three-year extension of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's term, more Lebanese voices, beyond the traditional Christian-led opposition, have asked the Syrians to withdraw fully from the country."). The new division in Lebanon is between the pro and anti-Syrian forces, and to that extent, the Lebanese haven't all learned to "live at peace with each other."

Needless to say, in a country which is such an ethnic and religious kaleidoscope, the new alliances do make for strange bedfellows, as Debka writes: "The resignations of president Emil Lahoude and the Karame government were forcefully demanded by the opposition leader, Walid Jumblatt, head of the Lebanese Druses who speaks for a rare multiethnic coalition made up of his own community, Christian factions endorsed by Maronite Catholic Archbishop Nasrallah Sfeir, and Sunni Muslims led by the dead billionaire’s oldest son, Bahaa Hariri, with the blessing of the Sunni Muslim Mufti of Lebanon."

On the other side of the fence: local Palestinians and the well-organized Shia with their Hizbollah organization (which is one reason why Syria's Assad decided to turn to Teheran for moral support and why Hizbollah has already been reciprocating by calling for calm and warning of dangers of another civil war).

What does it all mean?: The crisis currently unfolding in Lebanon offers a rare spectacle of the United States and France sitting politically on the same side of the fence. France, of course, maintains a keen interest in Lebanon as its former colony. In fact, some French analysts think that their country's involvement provides the international dimension to the assassination:
" 'I have not the shadow of a doubt that Syria is responsible,' said Antoine Basbous, president of the Observatory of Arab Countries. 'It was a message to the Lebanese opposition -- but also to France: this is our colony, we are masters here and we intend to stay. So keep out'...

" 'I am convinced this attack -- the most significant since the end of Lebanon's war -- was a message directed at Chirac, who was a personal friend of Rafiq Hariri,' said Antoine Sfeir, director of the Cahiers de l'Orient newsletter. 'The evidence suggests that the murder is a response to UN security council resolution 1559 [calling on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon] voted in September at the initiative of France and the US. It was Jacques Chirac who was the real architect of the resolution'."
And some pro-Syrian Lebanese politicians seem to agree (without mentioning the assassination, of course): "Information Minister Elie Firzli accused French President Jacques Chirac, who attended Hariri's private funeral... of having a direct hand in the opposition's campaign. 'Chirac made himself a direct party to lead the battle on the Lebanese scene,' Firzli charged."

For some, Syria and pro-Syrian elements in Lebanon are too obvious as culprits: it must have been the Jews that did it. Says Australian conspiracy nut, Joe Vialls:
"In a desperate attempt to slow down their forthcoming defeat in Palestine, Jewish Special Forces micro-nuke former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, then instruct western media outlets to falsely blame the atrocity on Syria... Early forensic examination indicates this critical nuclear weapon was from the same class and batch used on Bali during October 2002, in a murderous and blatant attempt to force Australians to believe in the entirely fictional 'al Qaeda' and 'Jemaah Islamiyah' alleged terrorist groups."
Somebody else who's also blaming the Israeli intelligence services - or the Lebanese or the Syrian ones - is Al Qaeda, or at least somebody purporting to be Al Qaeda's local franchise, the previously unknown Al Qaeda Organization in the Levant group, which posted a statement on the internet saying: "Blaming the Jihadist and Salafist groups for what happened in Beirut is a complete fabrication... The priorities of the jihadist groups in the Levant are supporting our brethren in Iraq and Palestine, not blowing up cars." Which will come as a surprise to Iraqis, among many others.

Well, OK, maybe it wasn't the Zionist mini-nukes (why use a slegehammer to crack a nut?), but the West is certainly trying to take the advantage of the situation, according to K Gajendra Singh: "The US attempt to organize a franchised 'Cedar' revolution in Lebanon, like the Orange revolution in Ukraine and the Rose revolution in Georgia, is to counter Moscow’s return into Middle East. Russia would be soon delivering short range missiles to Damascus, to ease US pressure in Ukraine, Georgia and elsewhere."

The economic dimension: The Syrian control of Lebanon is about lot more than just political power and geo-strategic influence. There are currently 1 million Syrian guest laborers working in Lebanon, bringing back to their home country $1 billion a year. "Haaretz" reports incidents over the last few days of the locals in the north and the east of the country burning the tents where Syrian workers live, demanding that the "guest" leave the country.

And that's before we even get to the question of the alleged involvement of Syrian officials and military in the drug cultivation and trafficking in Lebanon.

More's at stake too in Syria itself, as the authorities are becoming concerned the crisis might derail the new initiatives to boost the foreign investment in Syria from the current insignificant levels to "$7-8 billion annually."


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