The Assassination of Hariri: crisis spreads across the Middle East

By Rob Lyon and Yossi Schwartz

The Middle East was rocked by the news on Monday February 14 of the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Prime Minister of Lebanon. The car bomb explosion killed a total of 17 people and injured a further 130. This dramatic event reveals the hollowness of the claims of imperialism that they are stabilising and democratising the Middle East. This assassination clearly exposes the underlying instability of the whole region, which has been severely exacerbated by the invasion of Iraq. The situation is extremely fragile and can explode with extreme violence anywhere and at anytime.

Aljazeera broadcast a videotape where a previously unknown group called al-Nusra wa al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Sham (Victory and Jihad in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) claimed responsibility for the attack. It was claimed that the attack was carried out because of Hariri’s support for the Saudi royal family. It was later said that the group denied involvement and responsibility for the attack on a website. The authenticity of both statements has not been verified.

The assassination of Hariri came just at a time when the Lebanese were congratulating themselves on recovering some degree of stability after the end of the bloody civil war of 1975 – 1990. Now all of this is in ruins. Whatever happens, Lebanon will be faced with a new period of extreme instability. When Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader was asked what he expects to see next, he answered “more car bombs”. Instability is spreading from Iraq like a poisonous contagion. There is now not a single stable regime in the whole of the Middle East.

It is not clear who is responsible for this assassination. The western media have immediately pointed the finger at Syria, who has occupied the country for the last 27 years. This is possible, but by no means certain. Hariri originally had good relations with Syria, but later tried to balance between the different groups, manoeuvring with French imperialism in order to get a greater degree of independence from Syria. This led to a conflict with Damascus ending in his resignation. After his resignation Hariri joined the Lebanese opposition’s call for the withdrawal of Syrian troops.

Lebanon itself was always an artificial state, a creation of French imperialism. It is composed of a complex mosaic of religious and ethnic communities: Maronite Christians, Sunnis, Shias, Druzes etc. The French imperialists pursued a policy of divide and rule, playing one community against another, which later had calamitous results.

However, it is by no means certain that Syria was behind this political murder. Lebanese politics, which have always been extremely explosive, are always linked with events outside Lebanon. It is entirely possible that this assassination was the work of the CIA or, more probably, the Israeli secret services.

Following the Iraq war, US imperialism has attempted to dominate the entire region. Washington talks about peace, but what they really mean is peace under American control. However, these two objectives are mutually exclusive. By its actions the USA is causing new conflicts, instability, and acts of terrorism everywhere. Not satisfied with its criminal and illegal occupation of Iraq, it is shamelessly bullying Iran and Syria. At the same time it is scheming with Sharon to impose its terms of the Palestinians.

The Palestinian problem is a festering sore that threatens to destabilise the whole of the Middle East. In the last four years, at least 3000 Palestinians and 1000 Israelis have died in this conflict. Washington would like to put an end to this situation. After the death of Arafat the USA and Israel now have a stooge at the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. But he is a very weak stooge. He does not control the armed groups, and his control over the masses is tenuous.

Despite all the noisy propaganda about peace, none of the parties involved have any solution to the central problems: Jerusalem, where to draw the border of a future Palestinian state, what to do with the Jewish settlers, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Sharon wishes to withdraw from Gaza in order to tighten his stranglehold on the West Bank. The most he will offer is a puppet regime in part of the occupied territories. This will not be acceptable to the mass of the Palestinians.

As part of its manoeuvres, Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Sharon needs to secure his rear if he is to succeed in imposing a fraudulent deal with the Palestinians. Since Iraq is now in ruins, the only fly in the ointment is Syria, particularly with its control of Lebanon, from which terrorist attacks can be launched on Israel’s northern territory. Furthermore, the US wants to end Syria’s political and military support for the insurgency in Iraq.

In cases of murder, a lawyer will always ask the question: who benefits? If we ask the question, who benefits from the murder of Hariri, the answer must be Israeli imperialism. Aljazeera had the following to say on accusations against Syria:

Analysts were reluctant to point fingers after the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in Beirut, saying there were many parties who had an interest in killing him and stirring tensions in Lebanon

Commentators said Syria would most likely be blamed for the killing and as a result feel the repercussions hardest. But many of them wondered what Damascus stood to profit from having a hand in al-Hariri’s death.

“What exactly would the Syrians gain from this? Precisely because most people would say that this is the Syrians who have done this. It doesn’t make any sense,” Rime Allaf, Middle East analyst at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London, UK, said.

“The first people who will be hurt by this is Syria. Given the chaos in Lebanon and the rising anger between the factions, analytically Syria loses a lot by this,” Allaf told (February 15, 2005)

Aljazeera also pointed out that the attack could not have been carried out by some small, random group:

Reuters reported security sources as saying the explosive device was sophisticated enough to evade jamming equipment so hi-tech that al-Hariri’s passing convoy would interfere with cellphones and televisions.

So who plotted al-Hariri’s violent death? Murhaf Jouejati a Syrian analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told that it was too early to accuse anyone of being behind the killing.

“This is not good news. The Syrians are not crazy and they are not going to be assassinating Lebanese officials,” he said.

“They (the Syrians) have been engaging in dialogue with the opposition ... I think there are many local parties who would have an interest in the destablisation of Lebanon.”

Sharon wants to weaken Syria and provide excuses for Washington to strangle the country. It is noticeable that Washington immediately recalled its ambassador from Damascus for “consultation”. Condoleezza Rice has spoken of Washington’s “growing list of problems with Syria”, citing Syria’s “support for terrorism and the insurgency in neighbouring Iraq”, along with the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon. US officials have now said that they are considering new sanctions on Syria because of its refusal to withdraw the 14,000 troops. It is also no secret that the Americans and Israelis have been intriguing with the Lebanese opposition for some time. The opposition in Lebanon has been strengthened by the political assassination. Clearly it is not Syria that has benefited from the situation

All this demonstrates the cynical nature and base motives of imperialist policies in the Middle East. Far from establishing peace, stability, or democracy, they are preparing new conflicts, chaos, bloodshed, and war everywhere.

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