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Rafiq Hariri's Assassination - Syrial Killer?

Rafiq Hariri's Assassination - Syrial Killer?

Tarek Cherkawi

Winds of change seem to shake Lebanon and Syria these days. Indeed the pro-Syrian Lebanese government resigned after waves of protests shook the capital Beirut, and the Syrian regime was forced to be permanently on a defensive mode. In fact without warning Syria started an all out diplomatic effort aimed to win the favours of Washington and Tel-Aviv with numerous gestures of goodwill. These gestures include handing over important Iraqi Baathist figures to the Iraqi government, proposing borders joint patrols to the U.S. forces in Iraq, and banning the Palestinian organization thought to be responsible for the suicide operation inside an Israeli nightclub over the last weekend.

The question is what caused this political tsunami? It appears that the shock point was the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who was two times prime minister of Lebanon (1992-98 and 2000-04), but was also since the early 1980s -through his Saudi connections- one of the 100 richest men in the world.

Rafiq Hariri appeared in the Lebanese political scene during the 1980s, when he acted as Saudi Arabia’s personal emissary to the different protagonists of the civil war in Lebanon, and mediated frequently between Damascus and the various political figures in Lebanon. After successfully negotiating the peace agreements that ended the Lebanese civil war, he became in 1991 the prime minister of Lebanon.

After army commander Emile Lahoud was installed as president, Rafiq Hariri repeatedly disagreed with him on many political issues. Since Lahood was the protégé of the Syrian regime, Hariri lost the favours of Damascus especially that his preferred contacts within the Syrian regime were out of the power circles following the death of the former Syrian dictator Hafed El-Assad. As such he resigned.

In 2004 Rafiq Hariri decided to switch to the Lebanese opposition, which benefited from this move as it received from him not only a huge financial support, but got also through his international contacts (ranging for President Chirac to the Sheiks of the Persian Gulf) a vast diplomatic and political support. The agenda of the Lebanese opposition consisted mainly of demanding the departure of the Syrian troops and the cessation of any interference from the Syrian intelligence into the Lebanese affairs. These demands were backed by the international community in the form of the United Nations resolution 1559 passed last September, which demanded in strong words the withdrawal of the Syrian troops and security forces from Lebanon. Confronted all of a sudden to this complex situation the Syrian regime felt it was vital to deal with it as quickly as possible.

The Syrian reaction was swift and violent. In the fall of 2004, a car bomb almost killed the M.P. and former Minister Marwan Hamade, another leader of the Lebanese opposition who voiced his support to the U.N. resolution. Marwan Hamade’s party immediately pinpointed the Syrian services as being the culprits, and accused them of sending through this car bomb a message of intimidation to the Lebanese opposition.

It is widely believed that Rafiq Hariri through his contacts with President Chirac participated in the success of the U.N. resolution 1559; a stance that provoked even more the fury of the Syrian head of intelligence in Lebanon General Roustom Ghazalé, who according to some Hariri’s close collaborators, visited Hariri at home and brandished his gun warning him to choose between Syria and the U.N. Resolution 1559. Following the same sources General Ghazalé tried to blackmail Hariri by disclosing the fact that the Syrian services caught him on tape while talking to a European president and this proved he was a “traitor.”

On Feb. 14 a car bomb loaded with over 150 kg of explosives claimed Mr. Hariri's life as well as 13 others despite the utmost protective measures deployed alongside Hariri’s movements. Definitely Rafiq Hariri was among the best protected people on earth, and his convoy had the latest electronic technology to impede remote-controlled explosive devices. The fact that this protection was useless implies that the perpetrators were very professional and very sophisticated. From eyewitness reports of Robert Fisk and BBC reporters, Hariri’s death strongly suggests involvement by a major intelligence agency. The geopolitics of the region makes that only three parties have the capabilities of such an operation: The Syrian intelligence, The Mossad and the C.I.A.

It is true that the Mossad has also a history of such covert operations. For instance in May 2002, Palestinian military leader Jibril was killed by a bomb blast that ripped through his car in Beirut. Earlier that year, Eli Hobeika, who was responsible for the massacre of Palestinian refugees in 1982, and was about to testify against Sharon for war crimes in Belgium, was also killed in a bomb blast. These assassinations clearly hold the marks of the Mossad. The C.I.A too executed similar black-ops. A notorious example is the car bomb planted by CIA operatives on March 8, 1985 in southern Beirut, killing eighty civilians and wounding two hundred. Yet Syria has the lion share of these acts, indeed Syria has been suspected in a number of high-profile assassinations in Lebanon, including that of Kamal Jumblatt, the Druze leader, in 1977, and of Bashir Gemayel, the newly elected president in 1982.

However it is the motive behind the assassination of Rafiq Hariri that suggests the role of Syria. Hariri was in good terms with the American administration as his media empire was aligned over the American viewpoints especially vis-à-vis the ‘war on terror’ and the Iraqi situation. Concerning Israel he was not what we can consider as a hardliner, and he was not particularly known for irritating Israel or its allies in Lebanon. On the contrary by aligning himself with the Lebanese opposition he was de facto marching hand in hand with the best allies of Washington and Israel in Lebanon, and therefore he could only be disturbing Syria’s game in the region.

The faltering media cover-up of Hariri’s assassination also implies the involvement of the Syrian intelligence. By pushing an unknown group called “Group for Advocacy and Jihad in the Levant” to claim responsibility, and then by accusing a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon to be the mastermind of the operation, the traces of the Syrian intelligence were no longer subtle. Also the denials of the Syrian officials on Al-Jazeera Satellite television were unconvincing for most observers, since they all used the same vocabulary and rhetoric as if they agreed to lie in unison.

If in the future the Syrian involvement could be proved, History will consider the assassination of Hariri as Syria’s worst move ever. The killing of this statesman has not only unified a majority of Lebanese against the Syrian presence in Lebanon, but also provoked a worldwide outcry against this vile act and thus increased the isolation of Syria in the international arena. At a time when Syria is confronted to an increasing American and Israeli psychological warfare, and thus crucially needs the support of the world opinion, this was the last thing to do.


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