by Gerry Foley / March 2005 issue of Socialist Action
The assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, former premier of Lebanon and leader of the anti-Syrian opposition in that country, touched off a major political crisis, with mass demonstrations against Syria. It led finally, on Feb. 28, to the fall of the pro-Syrian
government. However, the crime remains mysterious.
Al-Hariri was killed by a huge car bomb in Beirut on Feb. 14. It is not even clear as we go to press whether the explosives were remotely detonated or set off by a suicide bomber.
In a tape sent to Al Jazeera, the assassination was claimed by an unknown group that identified itself as the "Group for Advocacy and Holy War in the Levant," a jihadist name. It said that al-Hariri had been assassinated because of his ties with the Saudi "infidel" regime.
If the explosion was a suicide bombing, that would in fact point to a jihadist operation. But a statement attributed to Al Qaeda that was posted on an internet site used by the Islamist organization denied that any jihadist organization had been involved. This statement was quoted and supported with analysis on Feb. 14 on the Islamist on-line site, edited in Cairo, Egypt.
It is, of course, unusual for Al Qaeda to dissociate itself from terrorist actions, and even more for it to assure that no jihadist organization was involved.
It is evident that the main effect of the assassination of al-Hariri has been to increase tensions between the United States and the Syrian and Iranian governments.
The U.S. withdrew its ambassador from Damascus in response to the murder and stepped up its demands that Syrian troops quit Lebanon. That provoked Syria and
Iran to form an defensive alliance against the U.S. Iran, moreover, has started staging military maneuvers that it proclaims are preparations for meeting an American attack.
A U.S. assault on Iran and Syria would of course be a massive, almost unimaginable escalation of the Bush administration’s war in the Middle East. But the war that the U.S. is waging in Iraq is fundamentally a war against the anti-imperialist movement in the Middle East in general—that is, a counterrevolutionary war. And such wars have a tendency to spread, as the example of the Vietnam War shows. The U.S. rulers decided then that it was necessary to extend the war to North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in order to cut off support for the rebels it was fighting in South Vietnam. They were impelled to up the ante and lost their entire bet.
The assassination of al-Hariri led to mass anti-Syrian demonstrations, supported apparently mainly by the religious minorities—Christians, Druses, and Sunni Muslims. The Shiite guerrilla movement, the Hezbullah, warned the protesters against any actions that might re-ignite the Lebanese civil war, which lasted up until 1991 and was actually halted by the deployment of Syrian troops.
Of all the militias, only the Hezbullah retained their arms. They fought a successful guerrilla war against Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and continue to pose an important military threat to Israel’s northern border.
The Hezbullah have become a state within a state tolerated by both Syria and the Lebanese government; they are dominated by Syria and financed and armed by
the Islamic Republic of Iran. Recently, the Iranian regime gave the Hezbullah drone airplanes capable of doing reconnaissance over Israel.
The Israeli Zionist press, both liberal and conservative, maintains that the Palestinian insurgency is being financed by the Hezbullah. The United States has been pressing the European Union, so far unsuccessfully, to get the EU to declare Hezbullah a terrorist organization.
Obviously, the Hezbullah is a strategic target of Washington, especially in the light of the argument by some experts that it was Saddam Hussein’s support for the Palestinian resistance that tipped the scales in U.S. ruling circles toward an assault on Iraq. It seems certain that a major objective of the U.S. campaign to get Syria out of Lebanon is to move toward isolating the Hezbullah.
Hezbullah has both the material and human capacity for carrying out the sort of action that eliminated al-Hariri. Moreover, as a Shiite group, it belongs to a different world from Al Qaeda, which is violently hostile to Shiites. It also had an interest in combating the campaign to force the ouster of Syrian forces.
Yet, regardless of who the authors of this action were and what their motives were, the political effect of this car bombing points up the growing dangers of wider war in the Middle East. It is an ominous indication that the U.S. rulers may be drawn into yet unimagined adventures by the entanglements of their war against anti-imperialist forces in the region.