Who Killed Rafik Hariri?

by , March 08, 2005

The recent hate campaign against Syria is ratcheting up to a fever pitch, as exemplified by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who told a convocation of veterans at the Suncreek United Methodist Church in Allen, Texas, of a conversation he had with our sainted chief executive in which he, Johnson, explained to the prez that those infamous “weapons of mass destruction” Saddam supposedly had were being hidden in Syria. Roll Call reports his remarks to the Texas crowd:

“‘Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know, I can fly an F-15, put two nukes on ‘em, and I’ll make one pass. We won’t have to worry about Syria anymore.’

“The crowd roared with applause.”

From “nuke Saddam” to “nuke Bashar” – the War Party’s slogans allow for variation only when it comes to the choice of victims. In each case, the prelude to hostilities is marked by a barrage of war cries mixed with lies – and in the case of Syria, the lies are even more brazen than usual.

No one disputes the repressive nature of the Syrian regime – although Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian strongman, is hardly a mass-murdering maniac in the tradition of his father, Hafez, or Saddam Hussein, for that matter. Bashar was never meant to succeed to the Syrian “presidency,” and only reluctantly took on the office when his elder brother, Basil, was killed in a car crash. Up until that point, Bashar had been an unassuming would-be ophthalmologist, educated in the United States and England (where he met and married his wife).

In any case, the Syrian regime is not exactly a liberal one: there’s a reason we send some of our more recalcitrant terrorist suspects to Damascus for a strenuous “debriefing,” a practice euphemistically known as “extraordinary rendition” (i.e., torture). But there are plenty of repressive regimes in the world, many of which enjoy American support and largess, so why pick on hapless Bashar, the Syrian Claudius?

The catalyst for all the attention on Syria’s occupation of Lebanon – an occupation, by the way, that was implicitly approved by the U.S. as well as the Arab states at the time of the Taif Agreement – was the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Lebanese politician and businessman, which many – including spokesmen for the U.S. government – maintain was the work of the Syrians.

The rapidity with which this particular bit of detective work was concluded is grounds for suspicion, and, alas, it turns out that the evidence is beginning to point in an entirely different direction – a fact that the Syrian “opposition” and its American cheerleaders don’t want us to examine too carefully.

We’re only supposed to see the flag-bedecked “pro-democracy” demonstrators in Beirut as they scream for Syrian blood and pose for the cameras. Indeed, the whole matter of just who killed Hariri has largely been forgotten by the Western media, which would much rather focus on yet another color-coded democratic “revolution” engineered by generous dollops of U.S. tax dollars and rhetorical support from the White House.

But if we look at how the case is actually developing – if we examine the hard physical evidence that is coming out of the investigation so far – another story, apart from the mythological narrative of the “Cedar Revolution,” is revealed, one that is far less simple-minded and far more disturbing.

Reuters reports on the current status of the investigation into Hariri’s death with this clarifying leak, courtesy of a Lebanese judge:

“Lebanon’s investigations show that ex-Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was almost certainly killed by a suicide car bomb, a judicial source close to the probe said on Friday. The source said results of the probe would be released next week. He expected them to show that a Muslim militant who had appeared in a video tape claiming responsibility for the attack was in the car that ripped through Hariri’s motorcade in Beirut on Feb. 14. ‘The attack happened when a car slowed up to allow Hariri’s motorcade to pass it. As the motorcade passed it, the car blew up,’ the source said. He said evidence came from a security camera at a nearby bank which caught parts of the incident. “

The “Syria did it” school of thought has suffered a huge blow from which it will never recover. A suicide bomber is not the usual method of assassination favored by state intelligence agencies, and, in any event, Syria’s accusers – led by Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader whose father “won” the 1972 Lenin Peace Prize – have constructed an entire conspiracy theory based on the supposition that the bomb was placed underneath the road, in a secret tunnel, and that therefore the Syrian secret police must have known about it and had some hand in it. They also theorized that Hariri’s motorcade, which was equipped with jamming devices to stop a radio-controlled bomb from detonating, was blasted anyway because the Syrians utilized anti-jamming technology, which disabled the devices. Yet more “proof” of a Syrian conspiracy, they yelped. (By the way, the Iranians also made this assertion – and offered it as “proof” that the Mossad was behind the whole affair).

Baloney.

It turns out that no such tunnel exists, and, in any event, the bomb was not planted in the road. Not only was it a car bomb, but the identity of at least one of the assassins has been established: he is Ahmed Tayseer Abu Adas, a 24-year-old Palestinian refugee living in the poor Beirut neighborhood of Tarik Jadida. Adas disappeared around Jan. 15, and later showed up in a video broadcast by al-Jazeera claiming responsibility for the assassination on behalf of a previously unknown jihadist outfit, the Group for Advocacy and Holy War in the Levant. According to Reuters, “authorities did DNA tests on the remains of a body found at the scene to establish they belonged to Abu Adas.”

In the mad rush to blame Syria, the casual brushing aside of a videotaped confession was no problem for Jumblatt, various self-appointed Lebanese “experts,” and Israel’s Likud government, which launched an international propaganda and diplomatic campaign to seize the chance to target Syria. But as the facts come out about the assassination, and the word “Jumblatt” becomes a synonym for bullsh*t – as in, “Don’t Jumblatt me!” or “Oh, Jum-blatt!” – the feverish triumphalism of the War Party, which looks forward to “regime change” in Syria as well as Lebanon, is bound to subside. The reaction is already setting in, with the Shi’ite majority in Lebanon flexing its muscles and Hezbollah – Lebanon’s largest political party – calling a rally in Beirut on Tuesday.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, chief of the Iranian-supported Hezbollah (“Party of God”), which continues its war to “liberate” Palestine from Israeli control, is cited by Reuters as saying:

“‘The aim of America and Israel is to spread chaos in Lebanon and bring back Lebanon to a state of chaos to find excuses for foreign intervention and to push some Lebanese to call for international intervention.’ … In the name of loyalist parties, he called for a mass rally Tuesday at a square in central Beirut close to another square where opposition protesters have been demanding Syria quit Lebanon for the past three weeks. ‘I call on all Lebanese to this peaceful popular gathering to reject foreign intervention that is contrary to our independence, sovereignty and freedom,’ he said.”

The pictorial representations of the “Cedar Revolution” that have so far appeared in the Western media have mostly been close-up shots of the comelier females waving flags and smiling coquettishly for the cameras, although this one shot of “pro-democracy” demonstrators dancing ’round a bonfire of what the caption describes as “pro-Syrian newspapers” has certain unfortunate historical connotations. We will doubtless see the Hezbollah/pro-Syria demonstrators depicted in an entirely different manner: no comely lasses and fearless lads here.

As Assad announces a “partial” withdrawal of Syrian troops to the Bekaa valley, and the White House undercuts the legitimacy of its sock puppets in Baghdad by correctly maintaining that no free and fair election can be carried out under the terms of a military occupation, the question of who murdered Hariri has gotten lost in all the shouting. Yet it is vitally important, because the investigation is taking place against the backdrop of the battle for Lebanon – and, by implication, the whole of the Middle East. All the world’s chief actors are being drawn into this proxy war: the Russians, the Iranians, the Saudis, the Americans, and certainly the Israelis. Heck, even the French are involved, in alliance, for once, with the U.S.

If Syria didn’t knock off Hariri, then the question of who did assumes enormous importance, not so much in the U.S. – where the impression of Syria’s guilt will be hard to erase, no matter what the facts turn out to be – but on the ground in Lebanon. All this brouhaha about the wondrous “Cedar Revolution,” with even the New York Times editorial page going gaga over the “Beirut Spring” – don’t journalists ever get tired of their own clichés, recycled hundreds of times over? – is mostly for Western consumption. It’s all a way of softening us up for another round of “liberation,” with a new set of lies directed at a fresh target: how long before it’s bombs over Damascus is anyone’s guess, but I give it a year or less.

The War Party is already beating the drums in Congress, with new sanctions and proposed funding for exile groups who want “regime change” in Syria. The future Chalabis of Syria are waiting in the wings, along with the possibility of U.S. troops stationed in Lebanon as part of a UN “peacekeeping” force. With France involved, we might even expect NATO to have some role. What undermines all this is the investigation into the circumstances of Hariri’s death.

Abu Adas was a convert to Wahhabism, an extreme form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia and the theology championed by Osama bin Laden. The language of his videotaped statement is couched in phrases redolent of al-Qaeda ideology. The hatred of the Saudi monarchy, the claim that the murder was “in revenge for the pious martyrs killed by security forces of the Saudi regime,” and the very name of this previously unknown group – al-Qaeda is always going on about “the Levant” – all point toward Abu Zarqawi, who claims fealty to bin Laden. This account of Abu Adas’ recent activities that appeared in the Washington Times and the London Telegraph lends credence to my thesis:

“Abu Adas, 23, a Palestinian Lebanese believed to have fled the country, attended two Beirut mosques known to be recruiting grounds for the Ansar al-Islam group linked to the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi.

“Investigators suspect that the mosques have ties to Sheik Abderrazak, a Damascus cleric who has helped terrorists travel through Syria to Iraq. The Beirut attack bore similarities to suicide bombings carried out in Iraq by Zarqawi, who leads the al-Qaeda organization in Iraq.

“Abu Adas, who also spent time in Saudi Arabia, is thought to have fought in Iraq. ‘We know that Adas had Saudi Arabian nationality and used his passport to travel to Iraq and Syria,’ said Judge Mezher in an interview. ‘The man converted to strict Muslim beliefs two years ago and returned to Lebanon only recently after traveling to Iraq.’”

Conspiracy theories are part and parcel of Middle Eastern politics, where nothing is as it seems and politics is embroidered with so many layers of deception that ordinary people are merely spectators in an unfolding drama. Two competing conspiracy scenarios are currently making the rounds regarding the Hariri assassination: on the one hand, there is the usual all-purpose villain, the Mossad, which is often blamed for the otherwise inexplicable. To the Arabs, there is no end to Israel’s perfidy, with the Iranians adding their voice to the chorus, and even some American fabulists have pointed to them as the probable culprits.

On the other hand, the official U.S-Israeli line points the finger directly at Syria. Both conspiracy theories are lacking in a little something we call evidence, but that’s no deterrent: indeed, to some it is a provocation and a challenge.

Evidence? Who needs it? The White House just makes this stuff up as they go along – you know, just like they did in the run-up to war with Iraq.

Why would a radical Islamist, the local franchise of Osama bin Laden & Co., want to kill Hariri, a centrist figure whose position as a mediator between often warring factions was a stabilizing factor on Lebanon’s political scene? From the viewpoint of al-Qaeda, chaos in the Levant would be as much of an opportunity as the Iraq war has turned out to be. There is also the sectarian factor: the withdrawal of the mostly Sunni Syrians from Lebanon would have to mean the rise of Hezbollah, a radical Shi’ite formation long supported by Tehran. In the sense that the Iraqi insurgency is now taking on the character of an intramural Muslim fight between Sunni and Shi’ite, that same struggle is now spreading to Lebanon, and, ultimately, Syria, where Bashar’s father slaughtered some 20,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood in a famous massacre. In bringing chaos to the Levant, al-Qaeda will have avenged them, brought down the Syrian dictator’s son, and gathered its forces within striking distance of Israel.

It’s fascinating to note how, in this particular instance – as in so many others – the interests of Israel coincide with those of al-Qaeda. It’s in Israel’s interest to disarm and if possible neutralize or destroy Hezbollah, and they have long called for getting Syria out of Lebanon and the disarming of guerrilla groups operating out of the Bekaa valley. Bin Laden, for his part, considers them heretics, worse than infidels, and his followers are just as eager as the Israelis to minimize Hezbollah’s influence. The Israelis, too, have an interest in promoting a religious war within the Muslim world, pitting Sunni against Shi’ite against Wahhabi. Divide and conquer.

Always the goal is to wipe out any secular resistance to Western and Israeli incursions: Saddam’s Ba’athist regime and the Syrian branch of what was once the same party. The old pan-Arabist dream of Nasser and his epigones, who sought to lift the Arab-Muslim world into modernity on their own terms, will soon have no adherents. It will be the Shi’ite mullahs and their Wahhabi-Ladenite rivals battling it out for hegemony in the Middle East – while the Americans, the Europeans, and the Israeli colony secure their own positions and extend their campaign of “regime change” into Central Asia and the former Soviet Union.

The “Cedar Revolution” is a Trojan horse that’s been wheeled into the middle of Beirut and is now disgorging its Greeks, Maronites, Druze, and others bearing “gifts” of Western intervention and war – all in the name of “democracy,” of course. That, at least, is the Arabist explanation – for lack of a better phrase – which reflects a certain truth but fails to get the whole picture. What this misses is the role played by Hariri’s assassins – whose interests mesh so neatly with the “Cedar Revolutionaries” and their foreign sponsors. It’s almost like that John LeCarré novel, Absolute Friends, in which both sides in the “war on terrorism” turn out to be the same side.

I’m haunted by the opening paragraph of Michael Scheuer’s brilliant book, Imperial Hubris, in which the ex-CIA agent in charge of going after bin Laden wrote:

“As I complete this book, U.S., British, and other coalition forces are trying to govern apparently ungovernable postwar states in Afghanistan and Iraq, while simultaneously fighting growing Islamist insurgencies in each – a state of affairs our leaders call victory. In conducting these activities, and the conventional military campaigns preceding them, U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.”

With the Hariri assassination by an al-Qaeda operative, however, we see that this works both ways.

Read more by Justin Raimondo