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
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
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.