Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lebanon's murder mystery

Lebanon’s Murder Mystrery

November 21, 2006




Pierre Gemayel, a prominent Lebanese Christian leader and Minister of Industry, was gunned down on November 21. The assassination follows two weeks of domestic political haggling over the role of Hizbullah (as an opposition) and its allies in a new national unity government. Gemayel’s murder may also be related to recent regional developments in Iraq and its two neighbors, Syria and Iran.

The country is overloaded with tension. There is a giant national debt, a weak army, a non credible parliament, militia rule and unfriendly neighbors.
Related to the conflict are the question of Hizbullah’s future and the government’s involvement of the United Nations International Tribunal in investigating the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

To stay armed Hizbullah needs Syrian and Iranian support. Hizbullah faces mounting pressure of United Nation’s Resolution 1701 which stipulates the demilitarizing of all Lebanese militias. Syria is suspected of murdering Prime Minister Hariri. To slow the Hariri murder investigation, Hizbullah’s ministers and their allies withdrew from the cabinet. The resignation of these Shia ministers precipitated a crisis of confessional balance in governance. The opposition to the government includes Hizbullah and several Christian and secular parties.

After the negotiations about the make up of the government failed, Hizbullah’s threatened to resort to street demonstrations. Today, street action in Lebanon is a segue to the unpleasant unknown. Local and foreign enemies mingle to exploit political vacuum. The most recent murder may simply be a domestic affair. However, there are groups outside the Lebanese opposition who wish to covertly enter the arena of public protest to cause immense disorder. We have witnessed the scene before too many times. One or two politicians are assassinated; a minority neighborhood is attacked; covert foreign agents escalate street fighting. A demonic surprise of some sort occurs. The killing of Gemayel may be the start of political unraveling of a too fragile Lebanon.

When an assassination takes place in Lebanon eyes usually look outside the country to figure out who the perpetrator is. For some unknown reason, political murders in Lebanon have for too long remained mysteries.

International opinion considers Syria the number one suspect. Anti Syrians in Lebanon agree. The theory is that Pierre Gemayel is the eighth victim of Syrian-type hegemony in Lebanon. But one has to assume that Syria would be very unwise to commit this murder when the international community is already suspicious of Damascus and when the US is seriously considering a dialogue with Syrian diplomats about a future role in an Iraq settlement. In addition, Syria has just established an embassy in Iraq. Further, Syria‘s ambassador in Washington has been working hard to receive recognition and approval from the US. Iran is also being considered by the Baker-Hamilton Group as a possible partner in future US regional negotiations on Iraq’s stability. Iran, Syria and Iraq seem to be coordinating their politics in facing the changing US Middle East policy.

Where else to look for the murderers? Could Israeli agents have orchestrated the Gemayel murder? If Iran and Syria manage to make a deal with the US over Iraq, Israel would feel marginalized and the peace process would have to be activated as a price for cooptation of Tehran and Damascus. If Syria could be falsely implicated for a new crime in Lebanon, the road to Washington from Damascus would be blocked. This theory is considered as pure Arab paranoia for those who find Syria a chronic killer in Lebanon.

Where is Lebanon heading? The country is divided on Hizbullah’s future, on national defense, on the process of identifying the agents of political murders, on foreign policy and on confessional balance in power sharing. The leaders must now focus on national unity by widening the representation of the opposition and identifying a political agenda that addresses the diverse needs of Lebanese society. Pierre Gemayel’s murder today brings to the front the crisis of governance in Lebanon. Solving Gemayel’s murder and the previous seven similar assassinations is unlikely before the Lebanese achieve unity.


The author is an independent Arab American commentator. His blog is .

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