Yesterday Pierre Gemayel the Minister of Industry in the Lebanese government was shot dead in Beirut. He was known as a strong supporter of the US. His death increased the tensions in Lebanon, following the resignation of the Shia ministers from the cabinet two weeks ago in protest. At the moment Hezbollah is considering street demonstrations after Nasrallah's demands for early elections or a national unity government were rejected by the Seniora government.
The danger of renewed ethnic conflict in Lebanon was clear after this summer's war. By bombing Lebanon heavily, Israel has rekindled the internal conflicts. Some of Israel's generals even stated openly that their aim was to bomb Lebanon into the past, i.e. the past of civil war. Yesterday's murder has brought back to the attention of the world the real danger of Lebanon sinking once more into barbarous internecine bloodshed.
The Lebanese government of Fouad Siniora was already on its last legs. Nasrallah, the leader of the Hezbollah, had been pouring scorn on the government for some time. Christian politicians have been raising the spectre of Islamic Iran trying to take control. Therefore the killing of Gemayel, a Christian Maronite minister, was simply one step further on the road to igniting conflict between the different communities that make up Lebanon. The reaction in the Christian neighbourhoods came fast, as hundreds of youth came out onto the streets and fires burned.
In a separate incident, shots were fired on the office of a Lebanese minister of state, Michel Pharaon shortly after Gemayel's death. Pharaon is a Greek-Catholic Christian MP from the anti-Syrian and pro-Bush parliamentary bloc.
Gemayel is the third anti-Syrian Lebanese political figure to be assassinated since Rafiq al-Hariri, the former prime minister, was killed in February 2005.
As Gemayel was an outspoken critic of Syria, the accusing finger has been immediately raised.
Saad Hariri, son of the murdered former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri and head of the Future Bloc in parliament, has accused Syria of the assassination: "Today one of our main believers in a free, democratic Lebanon has been killed. We believe the hands of Syria are all over the place..." But Ahmed Melli, a member of Hezbollah, told Al Jazeera, "We strongly condemn and denounce this killing. It was carried out by those forces who want to harm the future of Lebanon."
The Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in condemning the killing, said: "The negative role of Syria in Lebanon is not something new or unexpected."
However, Syria has strongly denounced the assassination and denies any involvement. The Syrian government had in fact just re-established diplomatic links with Iraq and has been offering its help to the imperialists in achieving some kind of "stabilisation" in the region.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Samir Geagea, leader of the predominantly Christian-backed Lebanese Forces, said the governing bloc "will not permit a return to the situation that prevailed before March 14 of last year" [i.e. to when Syria played a key role with a direct military presence in the country. He said that Hezbollah and the other parties that he described as "co-operating" with Syria, were standing in the way of the international tribunal for trying the al-Hariri assassination case and demanded that the Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, who is an ally of Hezbollah step down.
While of course we cannot be sure who assassinated Gemayel, it is clear who is gaining from it. President Bush immediately condemned the assassination and accused Syria and Iran of seeking to undermine the Siniora government. Bush stopped short of specifically blaming them for Gemayel's death, although the US ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, has raised the possibility that it is more likely that the US or Israel may be behind such an assassination as it serves their interests. In this context we should also remember the statement issued by al-Qaeda last Friday against Hezbollah, (mentioned in the article above).
Why should Syria, that only two days ago had declared it support for the pro-American Iraqi government, have any interest in a conflict that serves the interests of the US and the Bush administration that wants to topple the Syrian government? As we know the American ruling elite is more and more divided over Bush's policy in the Middle East. The Democrats who want to pull out of Iraq would like Syria and/or Iran to play some role in securing the imperialist order once the US and Britain leave Iraq. The Bush Administration has other ideas. Therefore this killing serves only Bush and the Israeli government who want to continue the same course.
Thus we see how the divisions within the US ruling class have a direct effect on the politics of Lebanon. As the ruling class in the USA fights over which policy to apply in the Middle East, after the disastrous Iraq war, the people of the Lebanon are staring the possibility of civil war in the face. What more argument do we need to be convinced of the need to remove this rotten ruling class, that should have been thrown into the dustbin of history long ago?