Beirut, Lebanon – In the aftermath of the recent car bombing in Beirut that killed Lebanese security chief Wissam al-Hassan and two others, Lebanon’s anti-Syrian political opposition wasted no time assigning blame for the malevolent deed to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Prominent media obediently fell in line. CNN, for example, transcribed the guilty verdict issued by the leaders of the March 14 political alliance while studiously avoiding any contradictory opinions. Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, son of assassinated former prime minister Rafik Hariri and ringleader of the self-appointed tribunal that has magically divined Syrian guilt in the al-Hassan case, was quoted as providing evidence to back up the ruling:
“Hariri accused al-Assad of ‘killing his own people’ and said ‘[al-Assad] will not think twice’ about killing Lebanese in order to protect himself.”
While it is impossible to deny either of these statements, al-Assad’s less-than-savoury characteristics as a human being do not automatically translate into a smoking gun. As Ibrahim al-Amin, editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper, has pointed out, “the Syrian security establishment is in seriously and dangerously decrepit condition – as evidenced by its failure to take the most basic security measures to prevent repeated attacks on high-level regime figures”. Al-Amin poses the logical question:
“How can a state which could not find or arrest its own prime minister after he defected and remained inside the country before leaving, suddenly display a high degree of proficiency in a security operation that would have required thorough and professional preparation?”
This is not to say, of course, that Syria is beyond suspicion. But the swift launch of the March 14 crusade to exploit the al-Hassan assassination to the detriment of the Syrian regime and its Lebanese allies should arouse suspicion as well. Without jumping to conclusions about why March 14 jumped to conclusions, it is nonetheless crucial to recall that politically expedient framing for crimes is not a rare or novel practice in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world.
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Furthermore, Syria was hardly the only regional party with a bone to pick with al-Hassan, whose assistance to the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army and arrest of a close Syrian ally in Lebanon earned Damascus’ ire. In addition to being a prime initial suspect in the UN investigation into none other than the assassination of Rafik Hariri, al-Hassan also presided over the branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces responsible for targeting Israeli spy rings in Lebanon.
It is very possible that al-Hassan was eliminated in the interest of creating chaos and igniting sectarian tension rather than in retaliation for a specific personal conviction, policy or allegiance. It’s no secret that, for the duration of Lebanon’s contemporary history, various domestic and foreign actors have used the country’s instability to their advantage.
The Beirut bombing incidentally occurred not far from the office of the Lebanese Phalange, a political party whose claims to fame include the 1982 massacre of up to several thousand civilians in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in response to the assassination of Phalangist president-elect Bachir Gemayel.
The perpetrators of the massacre were aided and abetted by the armed forces of Israel, an entity that derives especial glee from Lebanese instability – providing, as it does, an excuse for further destabilising activity in the form of Israeli invasions, occupations, bombing campaigns, water supply interference, and other projects ensuring Lebanon’s continued inability to exist as anything more than the crippled semblance of a state.
Following the Gemayel assassination, the on-the-spot assignation of blame by biased parties unleashed chaos and rage that were then channelled into support of Israeli political aims, as Israel vicariously terrorised camp residents for the crime of being Palestinian.
The guilty verdict issued by the Israelis becomes slightly less convincing, however, when one considers certain details. For example, shortly prior to his demise, Gemayel happened to fall out of favour with the Jewish state, which had previously endorsed him with the expectation that he would behave in obsequious fashion vis-a-vis Israeli demands.
Obviously, the fallout from the al-Hassan assassination has been nowhere near as grave as Sabra and Shatila, though 1982 is an ever-relevant reminder of the potential recklessness of unfounded accusations in tense times. The days following the car bombing saw gun battles, fatalities, burning tire roadblocks, and an absurd attempt by March 14 thugs to storm the government palace in Beirut and force the resignation of the Lebanese cabinet.
In a nod to the business of human suffering that tends to get lost among sectarian rallying and political opportunism, Al Akhbar‘s Ibrahim al-Amin writes: “[A]s some engage in a vile game of exploiting blood, a family has had a massive calamity inflicted on it. One need only look again at the images of Wissan’s two sons at the funeral to appreciate the enormity of the personal tragedy.”
Indeed, the diminutive state of Lebanon holds the distinction of playing host to a disproportionate incidence of such calamity – an achievement that stands to be repeated ad infinitum so long as blood is permitted to function as a political tool.
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, Al Akhbar English and many other publications.