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What is behind the assassination of Hariri?

Interview with Mohammed Hassan 
by David Pestieau and Luc Van Cauwenberghe 
Translated from French by John Catalinotto (International Action Center, New York)


Last February 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.

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 remain?

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 Egypt 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.


March 2005

This article first appeared in French on

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