Syrian Military Intelligence Eliminates Hariri and Reform Hopes for Lebanon

Monday, February 14, Rafiq Hariri, five times Lebanese prime minister, multibillionaire, builder of a country devastated by 15 years of civil war, was assassinated by a huge car bomb that ravaged the Lebanese capital’s seafront. Two ministers in his party and 6 of his bodyguards, including its chief Yahya Al Arb, were among the dead. Efforts to save his life at the American Hospital to which he was carried in critical condition were unavailing. The attack is described as the most brutal since the civil conflict ended in 1991.
Last year, Hariri stepped down in protest against the extension of pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud’s presidency and was about to take the lead of the opposition. A towering figure in Lebanese politics, Hariri was expected to fight the election due to take place in April or May.
The Lebanese hammer blow that came down on the Bush administration from Beirut set back its plans to bring democratic reforms to the Middle East. US officials were still digesting the import of Iraq’s general election the day after its results were released in Baghdad. They were also still waiting for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to come up to scratch in fighting terrorism. Its impact will be regional in magnitude, affecting the next stage of Iraqi insurgency and the chances of a Palestinian-Israeli accommodation.
According to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, the assassination was staged by Syrian military intelligence headed by General Rostum Ghazala. It capped two years of attempts by the Bush administration to engage Assad by diplomacy. On February 14, the confrontation between Washington and Bashar Assad’s regime abruptly shot up to a new level: the Syrian president had decided to resort to the vicious tactics of Iraq and Lebanon’s ugly past, finally impelled by a circumstance that DEBKA-Net-Weekly 193 revealed on February 1:
For the first time in the annals of the Arab-Israeli dispute, Lebanon’s senior opposition politicians are pressing for the government in Beirut to recognize Israel and sign a separate peace treaty with the Jewish state – without reference to Damascus.
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DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources report that the move was initiated this week by former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and the Christian Maronite archbishop Nasrallah Sfeir, acting on a signal from Washington.
The demand for Lebanon’s divorce from Syria for the purpose of making peace with Israel is the direct consequence of the January 29 UN Security Council resolution drafted by France and adopted by all 15 Council members, which ruled that the controversial Shabaa Farms along Israel’s northern border was part of Syrian Golan prior to the 1967 War – not Lebanon.
That resolution was supported by Washington to knock the stuffing out of the Shiite terrorist group Hizballah’s main justification for attacking Israel and to free Lebanese leaders to start talks with Israel. With that issue out of the way, the Lebanese trio maintained that Beirut has no further territorial or border quarrel with Israel and had nothing to do with the Syrian-Israel dispute or the Golan issue. There was no bar therefore to the two neighbors establishing normal peace and economic relations.
This action was meant to supplement the February 8 Israel-Palestinian ceasefire accord in Sharm el-Sheikh and deflect some of the popular ire directed against Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon over his evacuation plan. Above all, the Assad regime and the Hizballah would have found themselves isolated in a corner.
Washington followed it up by presenting Damascus with a fresh demand.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that for Washington, Assad’s most important test now is no longer Syrian implementation of Security Council 1559 on Lebanon – or even the evacuation of Syrian troops. Both are important but not the key, which is the dismantling of the Syrian-Lebanese intelligence outfit which our intelligence sources reveal is composed of the Syrian Reconnaissance Service and Lebanese General Intelligence commanded by General Jamil al Sayad. This is the mechanism that controls Lebanese politicians, including members of parliament. As long as it is active, there is little to be gained by pulling Syrian troops out of the country; Damascus will continue to pull the strings in Beirut.
Hariri’s subsequent murder shows how just that demand was.
These moves by the Bush administration were contingent on Hariri, Jumblatt and Sfeir winning a spring election in Lebanon and rounding out a cycle of three democratic elections in the Middle East. Although Lebanese politicians were still squabbling over the territorial lines of constituencies, the vote was clearly going ahead. Assad is reported to have complained to his aides that the Americans were planning to run an airlift to the home country of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese expatriates from the United States, Latin American and Europe, in order to win seats away from pro-Syrian candidates. It was time to stop them, he said.
Hariri’s assassination is one up for all the violent forces at work in the Middle East, for Assad as sponsor of terrorism and for the pro-Syrian government in Beirut. It is bound to have a negative effect on the Sharon-Abbas reconciliation strategy and their hopes with American encouragement of bringing Palestinian terrorist groups round to reducing their attacks, much less a truce. The Palestinians will conclude that the gun and the bomb bring results and will stick to this line – especially when convinced that Abu Mazan will never raise a finger to bring them to heel.

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