Hariri Murder Provokes Political Split

Hariri Murder Provokes Political Split

The family of slain former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri refused to allow members of the government of President Lahoud to attend his massive funeral in Beirut on Wednesday. The family was flanked by Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader, and Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir. In the meantime, angry Sunni Arab residents of Sidon came out to protest his assassination, directing their ire at the Syrian government.

That is, the Maronite, Druze and Sunni Muslim leadership has largely decided to blame President Lahoud and his Syrian backers for the assassination. In a sense, it does not any longer matter who precisely was behind the blast. The political opposition in Lebanon has made up its mind whom to blame. It is not that they are necessarily wrong. On any list of suspects in the killing of Hariri, the Syrians would have to rank high. They had means, motive and opportunity– which does not, however, establish that they murdered Hariri.

The other angle, of al-Qaeda-like groups hitting out at Saudi-related targets (Hariri had Saudi citizenship), cannot in my view be dismissed. (If, as is now being reported, the blast was in part the work of a suicide bomber, that would rule out a mafia-type business dispute). Given the 250,000 tons of missing munitions in Iraq, there are lots of very high-powered explosives on the market in the Middle East. This proliferation of explosives may be among the major ways in which the Iraq war ends up destabilizing the Middle East, since the explosions are unlikely to remain only in Iraq. Already, some Iraq-related violence has spread to Saudi Arabia.

But the Lebanese opposition and most of the outside world have decided that Syria is guilty because it is guilty.

The US and Israel would like to see Syria withdraw its remaining troops from Lebanon. Especially the Maronite Christians (who are a kind of Catholic) largely want the Syrians out (they are probably now only about 20 percent of the population). Ironically, the Syrians came in to Lebanon with a US green light to stop the Palestinians and their allies from taking over Lebanon. At first, the Syrians actually protected the Maronites. But now that the Palestinians have long since been militarily defeated, the same groups and countries that were happy to see a Syrian intervention in Lebanon in 1976 are now the most ardent advocates of Syrian withdrawal.

The joining together of the Druze, Sunni Arabs (Hariri’s group) and the Maronites in opposition to the government and in blaming it for Hariri’s death, marks a new phase of Lebanese nationalism in modern history.

The big question, of course, is whether the crisis will draw in the United States and (less likely) Israel. Many in the Arab world are blaming Israel for the blast. While this possibility cannot be simply dismissed, since the Israeli Mossad has played dirty tricks in the past, it seems to me highly unlikely. But then, I personally doubt that Bashar al-Asad ordered the hit, either. The Neoconservatives in the Bush administration, like David Wurmser, have been trying to get up a US war against Syria for some time, and the death of Hariri may offer them an opening.