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Tuesday, September 06, 2005 

Brian Whitaker: Long shadow of the Beirut massacre

It's not often that I publish other people's articles. In fact I never do. Should I? Let me know, leave a comment.

But this deserves force feeding. It's an excellent piece from The Guardian's Middle East Editor - an expert on Lebanon and Syria.

Great summary of why all eyes are on Detlev Mehlis, and how the Valentine's Day massacre has changed Lebanon and Syria forever and how its effects are still being felt. Gently delivered but insightful comment and analysis too, as you'd expect from Whitaker.

Articles on Syria - especially critical ones - used to be cut out or blacked out of international papers in Damascus. As if a mouse had got to them first. That all ended when Bashar came to power and stuff like this was accessible on the net. In a couple of days time, the following words will be on the streets of Damascus - literally.

Some extracts:
"The UN's investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri threatens to bring down not only his successor but also Bashar al-Assad of Syria."

"If there is a silver bullet in Mr Mehlis' briefcase when he delivers his final report to the UN, the Americans will surely not hesitate to use it."

Here it is:

Long shadow of the Beirut massacre

The UN's investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri threatens to bring down not only his successor but also Bashar al-Assad of Syria, writes Brian Whitaker.

The Guardian
Tuesday September 6, 2005

The arrest last week of four Lebanese generals on charges of murder, attempted murder and terrorism is an unprecedented event in the Middle East: high-ranking officers have been arrested before - often on trumped-up charges after a quarrel with their political masters - but this time the arrests are the result of painstaking detective work by international investigators.

Even more significantly, it is entirely possible the arrests will lead to the downfall of not one Arab president but two: Emile Lahoud of Lebanon and Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

The murder and terrorism charges arise from the Valentine's Day massacre almost eight months ago, when Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, was blown up in his car along with at least 20 other people as he drove along the Beirut seafront.

Instead of investigating thoroughly, the Lebanese security forces, who at the time were effectively under the control of Syria, blatantly destroyed evidence. In response to that, the UN security council sent its own team of investigators, headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, and last week's arrests were made by the Lebanese police at his instigation.

We do not yet know what evidence Mr Mehlis has compiled, nor what the generals have to say in their defence, but if they are eventually convicted, the political implications will be stunning.

The four men now in jail awaiting trial are Major General Jamil al-Sayyid, the former head of general security, Major General Ali Hajj, the former chief of police, Brigadier General Raymond Azar, the former head of military intelligence, and Mustafa Hamdan, head of the presidential guard.

To anyone familiar with the way things worked in Lebanon before the Syrian troops withdrew last April, it is obvious that these four security chiefs did not casually get together and decide among themselves that it would be a good idea to assassinate Rafik Hariri; if they were involved, they were acting under orders.

Technically, they were all under the command of the Syrian-backed president, Emile Lahoud, but Lahoud was not really in charge. The generals were agents of Syrian policy in Lebanon, and on all important matters took their instructions from Damascus, not the presidential palace in Beirut.

Nevertheless, Mustafa Hamdan was Lahoud's right-hand man. Lahoud has publicly defended him, and in most democratic systems that would be enough to trigger the president's resignation.

The situation in Lebanon, however, is more complicated, partly because Lahoud seems determined to cling on but also because Lahoud is a Christian and there are fears that his departure would upset the delicate political balance of power between the country's religious factions.

Even so, it is difficult to see how Lahoud can survive until his term ends in 2007, especially if the newly elected government carries out its threat to have no further dealings with the president.

So far, the Syrian aspects of the murder investigation have not really come into play, but that will change on Saturday when Mr Mehlis - after a good deal of procrastination from Damascus - will travel to Syria to question five officials there.

The officials, who are described as witnesses, include Ghazi Kanaan, the interior minister, Rustom Ghazaleh, the former head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, and his two chief assistants, Mohammed Khallouf and Jameh Jameh.

The fifth Syrian "witness" has not been named, giving rise to speculation that the person in question is the president, Bashar al-Assad, himself. This is a logical assumption to make because of a conversation - or an altercation - that took place last year between Assad and Hariri last year.

During the 10-minute meeting, Assad allegedly threatened physical harm against Hariri and the Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, saying he "would rather break Lebanon over the heads of Hariri and Jumblatt than see his word in Lebanon broken". In the light of what happened to Hariri a few months later, it is not unreasonable for the UN to want to hear Assad's side of the story.

Looking a little beyond the interrogations on Saturday, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario where Mr Mehlis asks the Syrian authorities to arrest one or more of their security chiefs and hand them over for trial alongside the Lebanese generals. He might even attempt to summon Assad as a witness in the case. Syria would then have to decide whether to comply - and failure to do so would be a breach of security council resolution 1595, which set up the Hariri investigation.

This would dramatically shift the investigation from straightforward detective work into the realms of international politics, creating a situation reminiscent of the standoff with Libya over the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, which rumbled on for more than a decade.

It is possible, of course, that at this point diplomacy would take over from detection and some sort of compromise might be worked out in order to avoid a confrontation - though in the present climate of American politics, that is extremely unlikely.

Elements in the US have been trying to "get" Syria for years - over its support for Palestinian factions and Hizbullah, over its now-abandoned military presence in Lebanon and more recently over cross-border activity in Iraq.

One way or another, Syria has managed to fend off all these attacks with its regime relatively unscathed, but the Hariri case has presented a fresh opportunity. If there is a silver bullet in Mr Mehlis' briefcase when he delivers his final report to the UN, the Americans will surely not hesitate to use it.

Whitaker's articles are always stunning. Have you read Selective Memri?

My fear is that the plan for syria is to destroy the secular nature of syria to appease to the islamist in the country in return of stopping the attacks on the US,that will lead to a new sieckes /peco and devide the country into religios enclaves simmiler to israel with israel as the most advanced and powerfull ,they started in iraq with psydofedarelism which is close to devison more than unification as it is in the US,they will use the murder of harreri to bring down the secular goverment in Syria .May God help Syria and it,s minorities,I am very sad that other Arab countries are conspiring with US and france against Syria ,may be Syria should understand that there is no arabs except in Syria ,the rest will sell Syria at the first chance starting with Sadat and ending with king abdulla passing by saidiarabia,it is time fo syria to work for Syria,sadly to say that,I hope sombody will have a beteroutcome to what i feel coming,Naim

I agree with the previous person's analysis who is Naim/anonymous!
He has a lot of 'aql and firasah to see beyond the spin & propaganda of the western media!
A new kind of Sykes-Picot like scenario may be coming true!
We can already see that in the guise of bringing 'democracy' & 'freedom' in the Middle East starting with Iraq. Iraq is already under de facto partition into 3 areas namely Sunni Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shia Arab and may cease to exist as ONE country if there is a proper Lebanon style civil war which will formalise the break up of the country!
Under international law and Geneva conventions it is the USA, UK and their cronies and puppets who are in charge of Iraq politically, militarily, economically so they bear great responsibility if not sole responsibilty for Iraq breaking up as a country!
However if Iraq was to break up as a country then this dangerous disease of independence/autonomy based on ethnic/sectarian lines could easily spraed all over the Middle East in the following ways:

1. Iran: Shia Azeris, Arab Khuzestanis, Sunni Kurds and Sunni Baluchis all wanting autonomy/independence from the Shia Iranian Revolutionary regime leading to civil war and break up of Iran!

2. Syria: Alawis, Druze & Ismailis demanding their own enclaves/areas free from the Sunni Arab majority as well as the Kurds becoming more confident as they see their brethren in Iran and Iraq achieve autonomy/independence!

3. Turkey: Following on from the above The Kurds have already been fighting the Turks for many years for their rights and autonomy/independence!

4. Saudi Arabia: Most of the oil is in the Shia Arab majority region in the east of the country which is already restive because of decades of suppression and oppression by the despotic and extremist Najdi regime! If the Shia part of the country breaks away then the Saudi royal family will cease to have legitimacy - much easier now that their co-religionists are in charge in Iraq & Iran!

5. Bahrain: This actually has a Shia Arab majority and is ruled by a Sunni Arab minority. Again boosted by the presence of their co-religionists in Iran and Iraq overthrowing the Sunni minority doesn't look too hard!

6. Kuwait: Has sizeable Shia Arab minority: about 20-30%. Again covert support from Iraq and Iran may encourage them to assert claims of autonomy/independence and merge with Iraqi Shia Arabs!

7. Lebanon: We've already been here before! The devastating civil war between various sects and religions between 1975-1990 supported by outside interests such as the US, Israel, France, UK Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, PLO etc.

The Lebanese civil war is the worst scenario of what could happen to Iraq and the neighbouring coutries if the disease of autonomy/independence based on ethnic-sectarian issues spreads!

Of course this is a neo-imperialist form of the divide and rule strategy in the Middle East which benefits only the zionists and their biggest state sponsors and friends and allies i.e. USA, UK, France, Russia, China etc. who beacuse of 'chaos', 'instability', 'threat of terror in political vacuums' , 'threat to stability of world economy' because of dangers to access to middle eastern oil etc.
In other words excellent pretexts to militarily intervene in any coutry they like in the Middle East!

The question is does the ordinary man, woman and child as well as the regimes in the Middle East understand this dangerous scenario or not!

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  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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