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February 16, 2005
Who Killed Rafik Hariri?

Rami Khouri attempts to make sense of the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in a massive carbombing on Monday. Unfortunately, as Khouri notes, the Byzantine nature of Lebanese politics after a generation of domination by the Syrians creates a number of possible suspects, most of whom will work overtime to frame one or more of the others:

The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a massive bombing in central Beirut on Monday sends a loud and deadly message - but the nature, origin, destination and intent of the message all remain painfully unclear to many observers. What is crystal clear, though, is that this crime will send out important political ripples in at least three dimensions.

The two most immediate dimensions are internal Lebanese politics and the Syrian-Lebanese relationship. The third dimension is the relationship between Syria and external powers - the U.S. and France most notably, the UN and the Europeans more broadly. The speed, clarity and intensity with which Lebanese opposition groups Monday blamed Syria and its allied Lebanese government for the killing spoke volumes about the troubled Syrian-Lebanese axis being the central political context in which this whole matter must be analyzed. That became obvious immediately after the bombing, as affirmed by the behavior of the three principal protagonists - the Syrian government, the Lebanese opposition and the United States government. ...

The fact that within just hours of the murder five distinct parties were singled out as possible culprits - Israel, Syria, Lebanese regime partisans, mafia-style gangs, and anti-Saudi, anti-U.S. Islamist terrorists - also points to the wider dilemma that disfigures Lebanese and Arab political culture in general: the resort to murderous and destabilizing violence as a chronic option for those who vie for power, whether as respectable government officials, established local warlords, or freelance political thugs.

Of course, that dynamic directly springs from the natural environment of a state at war, either with outsiders or with itself -- and Lebanon, unfortunately, is both. Syria has militarily occupied Lebanon for decades and props up a sympathetic government. That has bred contempt and frustration from the Lebanese, who have tired of Syria and Israel using Lebanon as a proxy for their ongoing hostilities. Even the Lebanese government that serves at the pleasure of Damascus has grown increasingly restless, and with the Americans on the other border of Syria, the Syrians themselves have begun to rethink their Lebanese adventure.

So why would the Syrians want to assassinate Hariri? Well, they claim they didn't, and instead blame the Israelis. However, the Israelis have even less reason than Damascus to pull such a stunt. They want the Syrians out of Lebanon, not to give them a reason to dawdle. Besides, car bombs aren't Israel's style. The Syrians need to ensure that they have a firm political grip on Lebanon if they ever intend to leave it to the Lebanese, and with the recent push for the end of the occupation, the Syrians may have decided -- rather unwisely -- that a message had to be delivered in preparation for their evacuation.

Now this murder will renew pressure on Syria to leave, and may tilt the US to look westward from Iraq towards Damascus rather than eastward towards Teheran, a strategy I predicted after the State of the Union speech. Both countries sponsor terrorism, and both have intelligence reports of WMD. Syria's proximity to Israel and the West Bank as well as its occuptation of Lebanon makes it an extremely inviting next step in stamping out the supports for terror in Southwest Asia.

If Syria killed Hariri, it's as bad a miscalculation as any Bashir Assad has yet made.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 16, 2005 6:42 AM

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» The Hariri Assassination: A-List'er CQ Weighs In from DOUBLE TOOTHPICKS
Bebeaux and I have been blogging our little hearts out on this topic for two days. There are serious ramifications of this development, and the U.S. stance toward Syria is only the tip of the iceberg. [Read More]

Tracked on February 16, 2005 2:03 PM

» Rafiq Hariri from Josh's Weblog
The car bomb assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, on Monday has certainly drawn some negative attention to neighboring Syria. Of course, this neighboring country has been occupying Lebanon in some form for three decades,... [Read More]

Tracked on February 16, 2005 6:38 PM

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