A Majority Theory: Syria, to Break Lebanon in Two

No one in Beirut needed an investigation to be convinced that Syria’s notorious military intelligence, which controlled the levers of power in Lebanon for decades, was behind the assassination Tuesday, Nov. 21, of the anti-Syrian minister of industry, Pierre Gemayel, 34-year old scion of an eminent Catholic Maronite clan.

The murder released a flood of anti-Syrian passions in the throng of hundreds of thousands of mourners who mobbed Beirut’s Martyrs Square for the funeral Thursday, Nov. 23.

This is also the general consensus of Lebanon watchers in most Western intelligence agencies. They are familiar with the bloody record of Syria’s military intelligence as the Asad regime’s instrument of assassination.

They also point to four items of circumstantial evidence against Damascus:

1. It is common knowledge in these circles that Syrian president Bashar Asad will never submit to the international tribunal approved by the UN for trying the plotters and executors of the bombing attack which killed the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in February 2005. Should this tribunal comes into being, as approved by the UN Security Council on the night of the Gemayel assassination, Syria will generate an environment of such chaos that the court will be unable to function. The Syrian ruler will go to any lengths to keep the heads of the Syrian government and intelligence, including his younger brother, head of the presidential guar Maher Asad and his brother-in-law, the strongman of Syrian military intelligence Asaf Shawqat, out of the dock.

The Gemayel murder has made every member of the anti-Syrian Siniora government realize that voting for a tribunal could cost him his life.

2. The Syrian masterminds who plotted the assassination miscalculated in their choice of target. Because young Gemayel was fairly low on the Beirut totem pole, his murder was not expected to become the catalyst for an outpouring of anti-Syrian outrage. Unlike top Lebanese politicians, he was not given armored cars or large bodyguards. He traveled simply with a driver and made it easy for the gunman to fire off 8 rounds through a side window of his vehicle and make his getaway.

3. To throw investigators off Syria’s track, the plotters abandoned their usual car bombs and used a gunman.

4. They believed the only suspicions raised by their choice of victim would be of a crime motivated by a domestic feud. At the same time, every Lebanese political insider would realize that Damascus was signaling its determination to topple the government – not by igniting a civil war, but by craft and guile.


Damascus has divided the country and split the government


For instance, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources recall that for the last two months, Syria has been pumping massive quantities of war materiel to allied Lebanese militias, clans and organizations. (DEBKA-Net-Weekly 274 of Oct. 20: Iran & Syria Plot Regime Changes). This has brought Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city of 600,000 inhabitants, under the thumb of Syrian military intelligence which has start building it up as the northern rival to Beirut.

The recipients of these arms are Tripoli’s masters, the pro-Syrian Marada (Giants) militia of the Faranjieh clan, Maronite Catholic rivals of the Gemayels, who in their day too sent a national president and ministers to Beirut. The clan and its militia, which has 3,500 members under arms, have established an autonomous administration in Tripoli, which refuses to defer to the Beirut government or the Lebanese national army and depends on Syria for services and economic subsistence.

Tripoli is serving Damascus as the model for autonomous regions to rise in other parts of Lebanon, divorced from central government. Its immediate targets are the Beqaa Valley and the central mountains, where Syria is providing weapons for the local Druze clans opposed to Walid Jumblatt, one of the most fervently anti-Syrian heads of the Lebanese parliamentary majority.

Damascus also has its eye on regions south of the Druze Chouf mountains and the port town of Sidon.

Since Syria’s ally, Hizballah, has established strongholds in the southern districts of Beirut, in South Lebanon, Baalbek and large parts of the Beqaa Valley in the east, the Syrians are confident that they have substantially whittled down the area still under the sovereign control of central government, confining it to East and West Beirut, the anti-Syrian Maronite areas north and east of the capital, the Druze Mountain and the stretch of coast running south from Beirut to Sidon.

By this means, Syria has managed to bisect Lebanon into two entities.

Damascus’ puppet, the Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, was thus encouraged this week to denounce the Siniora government as illegitimate. Damascus has not only split the country but also Lebanon’s ruling administration between a president who does not recognize the government and a government which does not recognize the president.

The Gemayel assassination conveyed a message from Damascus to prime minister Fouad Siniora to beware of deploying the national army to alter this status quo by force, because not only his ministers’ lives would be forfeit, but the army would break up; Hizballah and the other militias, as well as the pro-Syrian clans, would simply recall their loyalist troops from national service and order them to defect.

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