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Friday, Sept. 28, 2007

LEBANON AND SYRIA

The politics of assassination


LONDON — The assassination of Lebanese politician Antoine Ghanem on Sept. 19 is likely to be used, predictably, to further U.S. and Israeli interests in the region. Most Western and some Arab media have argued that Syria is the greatest beneficiary from the death of Ghanem, a member of the Phalange party responsible for much of Lebanon's bloodshed during the civil war years between 1975 and 1990.

The reasoning provided is that Syria needs to maintain a measure of political control over Lebanon after being pressured to withdraw its troops. This political clout could only be maintained through the purging of anti-Syrian critics in Lebanon, and by ensuring a Lebanese parliament friendly to Syria.

Indeed, with the elimination of Ghanem, the anti-Syrian coalition in the fractious Lebanese parliament is now left with an even slimmer majority — 68 MPs in a 128-member assembly.

The Syrian regime may, in fact, be responsible for the murder of six Lebanese political figures, including Ghanem, since the tragic car-bombing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. Understanding the situation in Lebanon, however, is no easy task, given that media reports pertaining to Lebanon classify every Lebanese political figure as either pro- or anti-Syrian.

Such reporting rests on the idea that the Syrian regime — and only the Syrian regime — has a keen interest in bringing death and chaos to a small but strategically important Lebanon. By the same logic, all of Syria's allies — Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Damascus-based Palestinian groups, including Hamas and various socialist factions — are regularly implicated by the Western media.

Considering the elaborate politics of assassination in Lebanon and the many bloody events justified on the basis of such killings, one would assume that media reporters and commentators have learned to become extra cautious before following official American and Israeli lines.

As a country either fully or partially responsible for destabilizing Lebanon, Syria may be a probable culprit in Ghanem's death. This is a view underscored daily by both those who are either genuinely seeking to liberate Lebanon from foreign influence and those who wish to dominate the Lebanese political landscape.

But Syria is known for being politically savvy and judicious. It has shown this by serving as a valuable ally in the U.S. "war on terror" since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It willingly collaborated in securing its borders with Iraq, and even went as far as torturing America's prisoners caught in the CIA's infamous "extraordinary renditions."

Why would a country willing to sink so low now provide pretexts for hostilities by carrying out brazen assassinations against America's allies in Lebanon?

Each such assassination only helps cement anti-Syrian cries in Washington, Tel Aviv and Beirut. The Syrian regime's past is indisputably cruel, but inanity has hardly been one of its features.

Could it be that Syria is innocent of the most recent bloodletting in Lebanon?

It is mind-boggling to imagine a country that has managed to survive amid the incalculable hostility from across all its borders being so foolish as to carry out crimes with such harmful consequences at such a critical time.

Despite Lebanon's value in the Middle East's ongoing Cold War, Syria, like any other regime under threat, should be less concerned about dominating a smaller neighbor than in securing its own survival.

So who are the other possible culprits?

Considering Lebanon's bloodstained past and the numerous players, sects and factions operating within its borders, the list seems endless. However, taking into account that all the assassinations targeted "anti-Syrian" figures and the official line championed by the United States and Israel, one can reasonably include those who wish to drive Syria into a military confrontation, or perhaps a humiliating political settlement with Israel (which Damascus has refused since its talks with Tel Aviv broke off in 2000), including a compromise on the occupied Golan Heights.

It might be helpful for those who insist that Syria alone is capable of inflicting such mayhem in Lebanon to remember that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently and unsurprisingly admitted that the "mysterious" airstrike inside Syrian territories Sept. 6 — clearly an attempt to coerce Syria into a military confrontation — was indeed deliberate.

U.S. diplomats scrambled to justify the palpable act of war on the mediocre claim that the Syrian target bombed by U.S.-supplied Israeli F-15 jets "may have had links to North Korean nuclear arms," according to the British Guardian.

Mediocre or not, a case against Syria that involves the U.S., Israel and their allies in the region is being diligently weaved, and one should not be surprised if the next military confrontation against Hezbollah widens to include Syrian territories as well.

As media and official efforts have conveniently overlooked all other possible culprits behind the determined efforts to destabilize Lebanon, the region seems headed for another military confrontation and Lebanon for a possible civil war. This will most likely be blamed on Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Palestinian factions, and Israel will once again be presented as acting in self-defense and the U.S. as defending the cause of Israel, democracy and human rights.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers worldwide. His latest book is "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle" (Pluto Press, London).


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