Saturday, April 09, 2005

What Is Behind the Assassination of Hariri?--David Pestieau and Luc Van Cauwenberghe interview Mohamed Hassan

What is behind the assassination of Hariri?

Last Feb. 14, Hariri, the ex-prime minister of Lebanon (from 1992 to 1998
and from 2000 to 2004) was assassinated in a strike inside Beirut. The
Lebanese opposition, supported by the United States and France, blamed Syria
for the crime and demanded the withdrawal of Syria's 14,000 troops from
Lebanon. Did Syria have an interest in assassinating Hariri? Are there other
interests at play that are being hidden from us? Mohamed Hassan, Middle East
specialist, answers these questions.

David Pestieau and Luc Van Cauwenberghe
Feb. 28, 2005
Who was Hariri, and who could be behind this assassination?

Mohamed Hassan: Hariri is a businessman born into an ordinary poor family
from Lebanon. In the 1960s, he emigrated to Saudi Arabia where he became a
very rich man. He returned to Lebanon where he twice became prime minister.
He has always had good relations with Syria and all the nationalist forces
of Lebanon. But the fact that he used the state apparatus to enrich himself
personally even more, especially in the field of real estate, well he also
had his enemies.

Hariri became prime minister after the accords signed in Taef (a city in
Saudi Arabia) in 1989 that put an end to the civil war in Lebanon
(1975-1990). The presence of Syrian troops had been accepted at the time as
a stabilizing factor. All the nationalist forces supported the presence of
Syrian troops. We mustn't forget that Israel still occupied the south of
Lebanon. Even the United States, Saudi Arabia and France accepted the Syrian
presence then. At that time, there was no question of speaking of "Syrian
colonization" as certain elements are doing now. After the country was
stabilized, the Syrian troops were supposed to leave, but there was no time
limit fixed in the Taef accords.

But if Israel withdrew from South Lebanon in 2000, why did the Syrian troops

Mohamed Hassan: In 2000, with the depart of Israel, a new situation arose.
The Islamic movement Hezbollah controlled the south of Lebanon. The
Christian Phalangists had partially left for Israel, were partly
marginalized. In that situation, Syria played a role as reconciler. Without
Syria's presence, it could not be excluded that there would be acts of
vengeance against the Phalangists. More, the nationalists supported the
maintaining of Syrian troops to protect Palestinian refugee camps. One
remembers 1982, when under the watchful eye of Sharon, the Phalangists
carried out massacres.
Was Syria behind the Hariri assassination?

Mohamed Hassan: The United States. But, to understand me we need to take an
overall view of the Middle East. The United States has a very serious
problem in Iraq, which they have not succeeded in stabilizing. They
organized an election there, but it was not followed with something concrete
for the population. Now, the government is only held afloat with the support
of the U.S. army. The attempt to set up an Iraqi army has gotten nowhere.
The resistance is better organized each day. Nearly 30 cities are virtually
liberated. The U.S. Army can only pass by them, but it does not dispose of
any local authority. Confronted with their inability to control the
situation, they point their finger at Syria and at Iran. The Iraqi minister
of defense of the pro-U.S. government of Allawi has thus accused the two
countries explicitly. The celebrated TV channel of Qatar, Al-Jeezera,
presented last Feb. 24 a video playback of Iraqi TV that attempted to prove
that many Iraqi resistance fighters were trained by the Syrian secret
services. Then, just a few months ago, the CIA affirmed that the majority of
the terrorists come from Saudi Arabia. To put it another way, the U.S. are
preparing the foot to fit into the boot and not the boot to fit the foot.

Why are they focusing their attack on Syria?

Mohamed Hassan: Syria concluded an alliance with Iran. It is not simply a
tactical alliance but more like a strategic alliance. Iran is a rich
country, which is on the verge of entering the Group of Shanghai that
includes China, Russia... Iran signed a quite large contract amounting to $170
billion for the delivery of petrol to China. India and Japan have equally
concluded important contracts. The U.S. would like to chase the whole world
from the Middle East, but the others enter.

In attacking Syria, the U.S. pressured that country to break its alliance
with Iran and with and to stop its support of Hezbollah and the Palestinian
resistance. But the Syrian government didn't panic and maintained its
policies. It even concluded a common pact with Iran. The two countries
support Hezbollah in South-Lebanon, the force that chased Israel out in 2000
and which continues to put pressure on Israel to evacuate the last piece of
Lebanese earth it continues to occupy. To weaken Syria, the last Arab
country to maintain an independent nationalist policy, results in
reinforcing the Arab governments that are collaborators with the U.S., like
Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

What forces in Lebanon now support the withdrawal of Syria?

Mohamed Hassan: There are the Phalangists, the Christian militias still
supported by Israel. Then the feudal families with Chamael, Wallid Jumblatt
and others that want to regain their old privileges.

On the other hand, with the demographic changes, 50 percent of the Lebanese
population is now Shiite. Well, the political organizations representing the
Shiite community, the Hezbollah and Amal, are pro-Syrian. Other components
like the bourgeois of Christian origin are aware that they can no longer
have any influence. Finally, on a regional level, the comprador regimes in
Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt support the withdrawal as do the political
forces linked to Egype in Lebanon.

Should we fear a military intervention against Syria?

Mohamed Hassan: A military intervention would only be a last recourse,
preceded by a long period of pressure and of interventions of all sorts. But
the sanctions and pressures currently are a type of war.

Faced with an impasse in Iraq, the U.S. is looking for enemies outside that
country. As they did during the Vietnam war in bombing Cambodia and Laos,
they could also today bomb Syria and Iran. Because the resistance in Iraq
increases support among the nationalists in Syria and Iran and stops the
comprador bourgeoisie from developing. But if they decide to bomb Syria or
Iran that will only reinforce the anti-U.S. nationalist current among the
Arab peoples.

Arab nationalism: an animated history

Mohammed Hassan: In 1952, the Arab nationalist Nasser seized power in Egypt.
In 1956, France, Great Britain and Israel attacked Egypt. It was the Suez
war, which finished in a catastrophe for the aggressors. The United States
took advantage of the catastrophe to weaken the influence of France and
Great Britain in the region. The nationalist governments of Syria and Egypt
then concluded an alliance to create the United Arab Republic (UAR) in 1958.
U.S. imperialism established the Baghdad Pact against the UAR. What was
involved was an alliance supported by the comprador bourgeoisies (1) of
Iraq, Jordan, Iran and Lebanon. But the Iraqi revolution in 1958 gave the
final blow to the Baghdad Pact. In the same year, the United States sent its
troops to the Middle East for the first time, to Lebanon. Great Britain did
the same in Jordan. It was a question of preventing at all costs the spread
of the Iraqi revolution. But they did not manage to wall up the Arab
national movement, whose goal was a true independence. Nationalism continued
to develop in Yemen, in Algeria, and in Palestine.

At the time, Lebanon (roughly the same size and population as
Connecticut-jcat), three times smaller than Belgium, is characterized by the
confessionnalism (government power is divided on religious basis: Christians
Maronites, Sunnites, Shiites, Druzes...). There is a precarious balance
between the various religious minorities which are headed by feudal leaders.
But during the 1950s, the Arab National liberation movement developed and
made alliances with the Palestinians. A great number of Palestinian refugees
driven out by Israel wound up in Lebanon. This development led to a
weakening of the feudal forces and a position of neutrality of Lebanon
between the nationalist countries and compradors in the area. The situation
was likely to fluctuate, which led to the intervention of the United States
in 1958.

Today, the situation is reversed. Nationalist Iraq was destroyed, but there
is an anti-imperialist resistance there. Egypt became a comprador regime
that collaborates thoroughly with the United States and Israel. The
comprador bourgeoisies thus took the leadership in all the Arab countries
except Syria. If the regime in Syria is weakened, capitulates or is
reversed, it will be a defeat for the Arab national movement. Hezbollah will
be weakened or will disappear and that will support the emergence of a
bourgeois comprador Palestinian leadership, ready to collaborate with Israel
while making all possible concessions. The United States could then more
easily impose its influence in all the region and Israel will be able to be
integrated in the region which imposing its solution to the Palestinians,
deprived of external support.

This scenario, ideal for the United States, is more than dubious. Resistance
in Iraq continues to develop. Syria holds good and made alliance with Iran.
And popular conscience and anti-Americanism in the Arab countries are
stronger than ever, even if the level of organization of people in
revolutionary organizations is very low.

1. a comprador bourgeoisie is that part of the capitalist class whose
interests are closely tied to the imperialist system. For example, the Saudi
bourgeoisie, which invested most of its wealth in the West.


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