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Lebanon: the shooting of Gemayel

by eternalcityblues Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 12:11:44 PM EST

Bad news!! - in Lebanon's very tense present situation this  seems almost designed to precipitate another Lebanese civil war... or at least to severely hinder a peacefully-negotiated outcome to the current political tussle.  

Lebanese Christian leader killed

Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, a Maronite Christian leader, has been killed in the capital, Beirut.

Mr Gemayel, a leading anti-Syrian politician, was reportedly shot in the street in a Christian suburb and rushed to hospital, where he died.

His death comes amid a political crisis in Lebanon, following the resignation of six pro-Syrian cabinet members.

Mr Gemayel was a member of the Phalange Party [Kataeb]and the son of former President Gemayel Amin.

Lebanon's Daily Star gives more details on the manner of the assassination and assorted recent precedents:

Witnesses said Gemayel was shot in his car in Jdeideh. The witnesses said a car rammed Gemayel's car from behind and then an assassin stepped out and shot him at point blank range.

Gemayel was rushed to a nearby hospital seriously wounded he was later confirmed as dead.

Gemayel, the minister of industry and son of former President Amin Gemayel, was a member of the Kataeb party and supporter of parliamentary majority, which is locked in a power struggle with different parties led by Hezbollah.

Gemayel is the fifth figure to be assassinated in the past two years in Lebanon. Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive car bombing in February 2005. The journalist and activist Samir Kassir and former Communist Party leader George Hawi were killed in separate car bombings in June last year in addition to lawmaker and newspaper manager Gibran Tueni was killed in a car bombing in December.

Some background on the current state of the Lebanese political arm-wrestling match in the days immediately preceding Gemayel's assassination:

BEIRUT: Hizbullah and its allies have set a date and locations for demonstrations aimed at either forcing the government to resign of bringing about early parliamentary elections, former Defense Minister Abdel-Rahim Mrad said Friday. The announcement came one day after Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told supporters to be ready to take to the streets.

"In the very near future we will witness wide demonstrations in various areas. The date has been set but we will not announce it yet," Mrad told reporters following a meeting of pro-Syrian parties.

The coalition includes the Union Party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, the People's Movement and the Baath Party, among others.

Mrad added that all parties have agreed to stage peaceful street protests until a national unity government is formed.

Hizbullah politburo member Mahmoud Qomati said participants in the demonstrations will also include the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Beirut Gathering.

The FPM said in a statement issued following its weekly meeting that its members "will practice their democratic and constitutional right of demonstrating to correct the political representation."

"The only safety net for this country is a national unity government where all movements take part ... If it becomes impossible to form this [unity] government then the solution would be through early parliamentary elections," it added.

Qomati, who participated in the meeting of the alliance, said: "It is a wide move ... striped of any sectarian or religious feature and gathers all the national parties regardless of their religious belonging."

He added, however, that Hizbullah was still willing to discuss potential solutions to the deadlock, "on the condition that they lead to the formation of a national unity government where all parties are represented equally, or early parliamentary elections."

Qomati's statement coincided with increased diplomatic efforts to contain the crisis before it spills into street protests that many are worried could threaten national stability.

The National News Agency reported Monday that a potential solution being discussed centered on the pro-Syrian forces endorsing an international tribunal to try those accused of former Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination in exchange for a national unity government.

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Beirut, Abdel-Aziz Khoja, is leading diplomatic efforts, negotiating primarily between Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Khoja said he is still hoping leaders will reach a deal if they resume national talks, sponsored by Berri, which broke down last week.

(Daily Star)

Noting in particular that Gemayel's MAJOR rival in the Christian Maronite camp - the "big guy in Lebanon" NEVER named, NEVER mentioned in most anglosphere coverage of Lebanese events - is General Michel Aoun, leader of the Maronite Free Patriotic Movement, which is amongst the anti-Hariri opposition parties that have been supporting Nasrallah's call for a national unity government extended to include more Shi'ite representation - and/or early elections, possibly with a more representative electoral system.  If Nasrallah's attempts had been successful, Aoun was slated for a very prominent role in the new government, many expected he'd replace the discredited, hyper pro-Syrian Maronite former general Emile Lahoud as President, as according to recent opinion-poll data the opposition could count on a fairly comfortable election win:

Both sides in Lebanon say they command majority popular support. A key demand of the opposition is reforming the electoral law -- long seen as unfair -- then having early elections. A poll by the Beirut Centre for Research and Information released on Monday found that the opposition (Hizbullah, Christian leader Michel Aoun and allied smaller parties) would win early elections, whichever proposed electoral law they were conducted under.

Under the qada law of small electoral districts to reflect the sectarian mosaic, the opposition would win 69 of the 128 parliamentary seats, the anti-Syrians 59. Under the two proposed modes of proportional representation, the opposition would win 79 to 53 to the anti-Syrians, or 71 to 57. There were 1,300 respondents, split across regions and sects, in the poll conducted in late October.

(Al-Ahram, 9th Nov. 2006)

Now Gemayel's assassination looks likely - amongst other things -  to stir up some major inter-Maronite venom as well as more generally precipitating relations between the two camps, viz. the "14th of March" Hariri-supporters camp vs the alliance headed by Nasrallah, Berri and Aoun.

Which in the present tense state of Lebanese political arm-wrestling just could give Lebanon a big push down the slope towards another civil war - which of course would ALSO be bad-bad news for all those European countries (and particularly for France, Italy and Spain) currently engaged - with forces numbering several thousands - in peacekeeping efforts along Lebanon's borders with Israel.

Antoine Sfeir in Le Monde:

We should ask cui bono? We have no choice but to note that those who were likely to wish for Pierre Gemayel's death are all those who wanted Syria to reappear on the Lebanese stage and the disintegration og the Lebanese State. The perpetrators are perhaps Lebanese but the orders came from the Syrians. The construction of a strong and independent Lebanese State is the worst thing that could happen to Syria, who can, at the moment, act in Lebanon as if she was at home.

Il faut chercher à qui profite le crime. On est bien obligé de constater que ceux qui pouvaient souhaiter la mort de Pierre Gemayel sont tous ceux qui veulent le retour de la Syrie sur la scène libanaise et la désintégration de l'Etat libanais. Les exécutants sont peut-être libanais mais les commanditaires sont syriens. La construction d'un Etat libanais fort et indépendant est ce qui peut arriver de pire à la Syrie, qui peut pour l'instant agir au Liban comme si elle était chez elle.

LM: The very day of the assassination, Syria moved closer to Iraq and said she was ready to cooperate with Baghdad. Isn't there a contradiction between a Syria putting up a good show on the international scene, and a Syria assassinating in Lebanon?

AS: Syria wants closer relations with Baghdad but that doesn't mean at all that she wants closer relations with the Americans. Damascus can make moves towards Iraq while continuing to acrt as she wishes in her traditional zone of influence.

The signal is dispatched more to the Lebanese themselves : Syria will not accept the constitution of a tribunal to judge Rafik Hariri's murderers, and doesn't want her pawns in Lebanon ejected. But this murder also show that Damascus is more and more under Tehran's orders.

LM : Le jour même de l'assassinat, la Syrie se rapproche de l'Irak et se dit prête à coopérer avec Bagdad. N'y a-t-il pas une contradiction entre une Syrie qui fait bonne figure sur la scène internationale et une Syrie qui assassine au Liban ?

AS : La Syrie veut se rapprocher de Bagdad mais cela ne signifie nullement qu'elle cherche à se rapprocher des Américains. Damas peut faire des avancées vers l'Irak tout en continuant à agir à sa guise dans son aire d'influence traditionnelle.

Le signal est davantage destiné aux Libanais eux-mêmes : la Syrie n'acceptera pas la constitution d'un tribunal pour juger les assassins de Rafic Hariri et ne veut pas que ses pions au Liban soient évincés. Mais cet assassinat montre aussi que Damas se met de plus en plus à la botte de Téhéran.

No guarantees as to whether Sfeir is right.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 03:16:56 PM EST
Seeing as how Hariri's assassination effectively forced Syria to withdraw its overt presence from Lebanon, I am having difficulty imagining that the Syrians would think another high-profile killing would play to their advantage. Does the benefit of influence in Lebanon out-weigh the risk of increased international isolation and even the possibility of giving a "justification" for a US attack?
by det on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 03:51:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think "overt" is the word.

But I said there were no guarantees Sfeir was right. He's a well-informed and often enlightening commentator, but he has a clear point of view -- he's of Lebanese origin and a Christian.

Anyway : what other theories are there if Syria wasn't behind the Gemayel murder? (Open, not rhetorical, question).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:14:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. Aoun
  2. Hezbollah
  3. a smaller extremist group bent on stirring trouble and then take the stage in their own community
  4. Israel

It is an even more murkier world than Italian secret services.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:17:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One conspiracy theory making the rounds is... hmmm, who wants the Lebanese government to fall?  

Because if one-third of the 24 cabinet ministers quit (or, apparently, die) then it automatically brings down the government.  Six have already walked out, plus one dead... and now the sketchy stories about some kind of shooting at Michel Pharon's office... so now many people are asking who would benefit from this?

Ya Libnan: Coup d'etat underway in Lebanon?

Beirut - The assassination of Pierre Gemayel means that two more ministers need to resign or be killed in order to bring down the anti-Syrian government.

As if one assassination were not enough bloodshed for one day, the murderers proceeded to target another anti-Syrian Member of Parliament - Michel Pharaon.

Syria's allies in Lebanon are planning to take the streets on Thursday to demand the government resign. The pro-Syrian allies in Lebanon include Hezbollah, Michel Aoun's political party and Nabih Berri's Amal movement.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 05:47:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the link -Ya Libnan seems to be the only English-language site on the web mentioning the almost-simultaneous attack against the office of Michel Pharaon.

While I was on their site I came across this - note the date:

Geagea predicts assassinations of Lebanon ministers
Saturday, 18 November, 2006 @ 9:45 AM

Beirut - Samir Geagea an anti-Syrian Christian leader said on Friday efforts to topple Lebanon's Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora could lead to assassination attempts against cabinet ministers.
Geagea told Reuters that the government now has 17 ministers, if 3 of these ministers were eliminated then the government will automatically fall.
He would not say who might try to kill ministers, but said Syria has some minor allies in Lebanon who may attempt the assassinations to prevent the international court from taking place.

I had the impression everyone else was worried mainly about the promised mass demos, thought street-fighting or shootouts might break out.. first I'd heard about expectations of ministers being assassinated! Also striking how so far the action (prediction + attacks) all seems to be inside the contentious little world of Lebanon's Christian parties.

Jumping onto a completely different hypothesis-track: I've read somewhere that in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon there are some Salafist factions that are both fiercely anti-Lebanese-Christian (...bad bad memories...) and strongly anti-Shi'ite for sectarian reasons.. some of which are tending towards AQ if not actually allied with it? AQ is another "player" that would just LOVE the havoc of civil war in Lebanon - as would Israel.    

"Ignoring moralities is always undesirable, but doing so systematically is really worrisome." Mohammed Khatami

by eternalcityblues (parvati_roma aaaat libero.it) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 08:10:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Check out this AP Story from November 13th.

An interesting snippet:

The Al-Hayat newspaper reported that al-Qaida issued the statement from the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared in northern Lebanon.

"The organization has arrived in Lebanon and we will work on destroying this corrupt government that receives orders from the American administration," Al-Hayat said, quoting the statement.

Although it was impossible to verify the authenticity of the message, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi cast doubt on its veracity Monday.

It's just possible that AQ guys among the Palestinians north of Beirut did carry out the job.  

by Hoya90 (hoya90jmk-at-yahoo-dot-com) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 08:43:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also possible: some local group taking al-Qaida's mantle.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 03:31:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or any one of a hundred plots straight out of a spy novel ... Israel trying to link the conflict in the region more closely to the  War of Terror, for instance.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 03:35:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I said, an even more murkier world than Italian secret services. (AFAIK we still don't know exactly who organised and executed the embassy and US GI barracks suicide bombings in the early eighties.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 03:37:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
AQ is in Lebanon, and, I'm told, not just in the Palestinian camps (most of which are fairly heavily guarded, to the point that they're virtual prisons).  They have been keeping a low profile, but they're there.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 05:14:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That said, I don't think it's in their interest to topple the current government.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 05:15:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for asking, but according to whom (or at least how reliable is the source - street rumour or reliable intelligence?), and what precisely do they mean by AQ?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 05:17:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's hard to say what AQ is anywhere... but these are militant Salafis who in some but not all cases will self-identify as AQ, which even so may mean nothing more than an ideological affinity for the network rather than organizational or operational ties.

In the camps, they are relatively open, and I know several people who have actually met them there.  In other parts of the country, friends who live in Lebanon tell me they're a known presence, but much more secretive.  In both cases, a significant number of them have returned to Lebanon from Iraq.  But we are also not talking about hundreds or thousands of people, from what I understand.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 05:42:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is even a Bin-Laden-praising Sunni party in Parliament, but strangely enough, it is part of the March 14th coalition.

BTW, maybe US intel would be worth something if it recruited you...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 05:57:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
AAAAAHH!  Bite your tongue!

Actually, I don't know whether to be insulted or relieved that they've never tried.  I know a couple of people they have approached.  But their language skills are better than mine....

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 06:09:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, I understand your curiosity as to the sourcing, so for a little independent verification ... this excellent story has much of the same information.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 05:48:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can I take this opportunity to say, yet again, "Told you so you stupid fucking muscular liberal wankers". Not that there are any reading here. All straight out of "How to create global holy war for dummies", coming soon.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 06:06:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
since i agree that this assassination can come from Christian side, it is very unlikely than Aoun is invloved, he had thousands previous opportunity/reason to remove Gemayel the last 30 years and i do not believe that this attack will strengthen his position.

BTW Gemayel was not an angel, i have not tears for him

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 07:34:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't see what Aoun would stand to gain either - his position's already strong, he was looking towards elections not mayhem. In fact given the huge bitterness amongst Phalangist-etc. supporters about his alliance with Nasrallah (Lebanese comments-sites full of insults for months!), I'd have thought he was more likely to be assassinated than Gemayel.

Ah well, I clearly lack GeaGea's uncanny premonitory gifts.

"Ignoring moralities is always undesirable, but doing so systematically is really worrisome." Mohammed Khatami

by eternalcityblues (parvati_roma aaaat libero.it) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 08:18:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Aoun is a much harder target.  He lives in a fortress on top of a mountain outside of Beirut, and rarely leaves.

Also, depending on who's doing the killing, Aoun wouldn't necessarily be a target.  He is Hezbollah's key Christian ally, and we certainly can't rule out that they did this.  All this speculation is just that -- speculation.  Nobody knows a damn thing, and the different groups in Lebanon will believe what they want  to believe, probably regardless of what the evidence says.

Everyone thinks everyone is a target in Lebanon.  People have been predicting the imminent assassination of Walid Jumblatt for years.  (One of my friends, who was about 10 blocks away when the bomb killed Hariri, said that every single person in the room with him looked up when they heard the sound and said, "Hmmm, wonder if they finally got Jumblatt?")  And yet he still moves around with relative ease.  (I unexpectedly ended up four feet away from him last year as he arrived on foot at the big rally on the one-year anniversary of the Hariri assassination.)

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 05:24:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've got a link downthread to a story where AQ told the Al-Hayat newspaper that they would topple the Lebanese government.

Since Hizbollah managed to survive its war with Israel, AQ has been playing catch up in trying to prove that it will be the ultimate defender of Islam.  They don't like playing second fiddle to a bunch of Shi'a heretics.

It wouldn't surprise me that they would try to do a trifecta of assassinations in Lebanon to topple the government and prove that they can play power broker.  Even though the action would bring Hizbollah to power, it would be at their hand and not the direct action of Nasrallah and company.

It also begs the question of Syrian complicity.  Syria was fairly willing to let foreign jihadists make their way into Iraq the last few years.  This situation would also serve their interests - topple the current government without getting their fingerprints on the dirty work.

by Hoya90 (hoya90jmk-at-yahoo-dot-com) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 09:53:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Syria was fairly willing to let foreign jihadists make their way into Iraq the last few years.

Methinks that's 99% US propaganda, and rather lousy for that. If the US failed to control borders with all their night-vision, satellite and aerial equipment, how come the Syrians were supposed to do better.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 03:35:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Plus the only border guards anyone reports seeing on the border are Syrian. Hey maybe the Iraqis or our US forces may want to do something about securing a border instead of making ludicrous claims that the Syrian leadership would actively encourage Sunni extremists. However, there is a lot of ignorance in the West where people may not understand that the last thing the Syrain leadership would do would be to encourage these people anywhere neat their country. Unfortunately the US regime relies on the this ignorance so it can plant ridiculous ideas in people's minds.
Oh and lets remember how effective the US are at policing their own border with Mexico.
by observer393 on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 05:08:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You are correct that the Asad regime has no love for Sunni extremists.  The fact that the Asads are Alawis (a Shi'a tradition) and have worked to crush the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood is testament to that.

My point is not that the Syrian regime has been an active supporter and director of Sunni extremists moving into Iraq and Lebanon.  To encourage them is to let them put roots down in your own country and they definitely don't want that.  One need only look at Pakistan to see how well that works.

As for border control, comparisons to the U.S. are meaningless.  It isn't that the Syrians should be able to control the border (they can't).  However, an autocratic regime built on the support of a strong and often brutal internal security apparatus SHOULD know generally what kinds of people are passing in and out of the country.  If you can't manage that, then you aren't likely to stay in power long (especially when you are an ethnic minority in a majority Sunni country).  So what I am suggesting is that the Syrian government (at some level) was very likely aware of Sunni radicals moving into Lebanon.

The point being that Syria has an interest in seeing the current government in Lebanon fall.  If they can find an agent willing to help that process along, why wouldn't they exploit it.  It lets them deny they were involved and it allows Nasrallah to take power with clean hands.

by Hoya90 (hoya90jmk-at-yahoo-dot-com) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 07:15:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So what I am suggesting is that the Syrian government (at some level) was very likely aware of Sunni radicals moving into Lebanon.

Well, and Saddam was aware that Zarqawi was in the country. Only, the US propagandists forgot to mention that he actually wanted Z to be killed, but couldn't get him. Even secret services of police states don't know everything. Another thing is that while US propaganda focused on foreign insurgents and among them on those coming from Syria, in truth more came via Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Same 'failure' there.

It lets them deny they were involved and it allows Nasrallah to take power with clean hands.

The useful idiot version has more clout, but I don't see al-Qaida types willing to be agents for Baath. If Syria used pawns, then more obscure ones. BTW I don't think they would want Nasrallah. Nasrallah is too independent, and even the ties he has are more to Iran than Syria. They would want Berri. (There is a long history of Syrian intrigues to get Hezbollah to accept a minority role in a Shi'a coalition with Amal.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 01:14:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, most propaganda has a grain of truth to make it work.

In general, I believe that Syria was aware of the kinds of people passing through their territory (the regime couldn't survive if it wasn't able to manage that).  That isn't the same as saying that they can shut off the tap or that they are directing the operations.

by Hoya90 (hoya90jmk-at-yahoo-dot-com) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 07:17:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, most propaganda has a grain of truth to make it work.

Iraqi WMD.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 01:03:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or even those still in government, who are a murky group themselves albeit pro-US, could benfit from the assassination of a high profile but generally irrelevent player. The assassination certainly supports their claims of plots against them, and will get them further unquestioning western support whereas as things stood they would have probably been forced into an election they couldnt win, and which would have resulted in long overdue democratic reforms that would have furhter empowered the currently grossly underrepresented Shias. This also raises the question of why would Hezbollah or Aoun or Syria for that matter have done it when cruising towards an easy election victory even under the currently unfair system stacked against them.
Then again Israel remains a prime candidate as the assassination further supports their claims that Lebanon is a kind of failed state.
No doubt we will nver know the truth too. After all the Hariri investigation has completely ignored the very plausible explanations that it is more likely he was assassinated over business and mafia dealings than politics, but then again we cannot expect the western media to present alternatives when John Bolton's agenda is there for them to preach.
by observer393 on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 01:50:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The first three paragraphs sound sensible, but the last is pure lunacy. Especially the very last sentence.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:05:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The last sentence seems over the top to me, but not that Syria does not want a tribunal on Hariri's murder.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:10:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I meant the last half-sentence of that sentence, "...and doesn't want her pawns in Lebanon ejected".

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:14:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I translated évincés by "ejected", but you could say "to lose power". Thinking of Emile Lahoud in particular.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:25:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Damn, I should read less hastiuly. I actually read "elected"...

Now this way it makes more sense, though methinks Syria might prefer to live with a President Aoun than play a risky game.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:38:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Syrians have been trying to get into better terms with the US for years now. It must be frustrating for the syrian government that they take accept US renditions and cooperate with the war on terra on the one hand, and still the US keeps them on the list of enemies on the other.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:41:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One thing to bear in mind about Lebanese politics is that what appears as a clash of two sides from the outside, is an Orwellian Oceania vs. Eurasia or was it Eastasia confrontation on a closer look (hence the Daily Star's characterisation of the opposition as "pro-Syrian"), and on an even closer look, the shifting coalitions of a dozen factions. It is near impossible to guess which side is responsible for an assassination.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:13:04 PM EST
Another general background:

The Gemayel family gave the leaders to the Phalangist (fascist) faction. Starting with the currently assassinated's similarly named grandfather, a PLO assassination attempt on whom started the civil war. Then one of the latter's sons was the PM brought to power by Sharon's Lebanon invasion in 1982, who was soon assassinated. Then for years the other son, was PM. Pierre Gemayel was the latter's son, however himself not very important, a bland politician. But Pierre's brother formed his own movement which is rather far-right.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:21:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I checked what Angry Arab has to say on the subject. He is hardly unbiased, he is a professor in the US with Lebanese Sunni/Southern background and close to the Lebanese communists, but fairly apart from the main groups to count as outside position.

  • He says that Gemayel got into parliament in 2004 only thanks to the intervention of Aoun, who struck an agreement with Pierre's father [still alivve, pulling strings from the background].
  • He also says the 'Cedar Revolution' group, which was dominated by the (Sunni) Hariri clan, chose Pierre as a Christian government member just because of his insignificance.
  • He also mentions a reason for older hate from Muslims: in a 2004 speech, he spoke about "quality versus quantity", meaning the now minority Christians' superiority compared to others, and referring to the fascist ideology of his grandfather.
  • He observes that the method of this assassination was novel, and hypothetises that it was someone unorganised taking things into his own hands.

I find he also says the civil war-starting shooting in 1975 wasn't an assassination attempt on Pierre Gemayel the older. Regrettably without details.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:36:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]

On the morning of April 13, 1975, unidentified gunmen in a speeding car fired on a group of Phalangist leaders leaving Church in the Christian Beirut suburb of Ain Rumaneh, killing four people in what was probably an attempt on the life of Pierre Gemayel.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 04:44:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Conflicting reports emerged on the details of the attack, in which a sport-utility vehicle either rammed or pulled alongside a silver KIA sedan driven by Gemayel. An unknown number of assailants then fired through the driver's side window of the vehicle, hitting the minister and at least two others.
One of Gemayel's bodyguards, Samir Chartouni, died a few hours later from his wounds. The condition of a second bodyguard wounded in the attack was unknown.
Television footage showed damage to the front of the victims' vehicle and multiple holes in the driver's-side window.

(Daily Star, Lebanon)

I too had noticed that the method was very different from the more recent spate of political assassinations in Lebanon, which all involved bombs.

List of assassinations in Lebanon in the past two years (IHT)

At least around here, both ramming a car then shooting through the window and straight "drive-past" shootings are typical organised-crime hit methods (Naples Camorra etc) - which of course doesn't mean I'm saying that international gangsterism, Italian or otherwise, has anything whatsoever to do with Gemayel's death... plus I'm quite paranoid enough already about "Italian Connections" pouring out of the international woodwork without going looking for more of 'em, especially where there is no logical reason I can see to suspect their existence.

"Ignoring moralities is always undesirable, but doing so systematically is really worrisome." Mohammed Khatami

by eternalcityblues (parvati_roma aaaat libero.it) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 07:28:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That kind of shooting also occurs quite frequently in Iraq.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 07:33:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Robert Fisk's article in The Independent doesn't seem to me to greatly contradict Antoine Sfeir (above), though the nuances aren't the same.

...nothing happens by accident in Lebanon and political detectives - as opposed to the police kind who most assuredly will not find Gemayel's killers - have to look beyond this country's frontiers to understand why ghosts may soon climb out of the mass graves of the civil war.

Why did Gemayel die just hours after Syria announced the restoration of diplomatic relations with Iraq after a quarter of a century? Why has Nasrallah threatened street demonstrations in Beirut to bring down the government when Siniora's cabinet had just accepted the UN's tribunal to try Hariri's assassins?

And why did America's UN ambassador, John Bolton, weep crocodile tears for Lebanon's democracy - which he cared so little about when Israel smashed into Lebanon this summer - without mentioning Syria?

The whole piece is worth reading.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 04:35:58 AM EST
Juan Cole:

Lebanon for the past two years has been caught between several outside forces. The Hariris represent Saudi interests. Hizbullah and Amal, the Shiite parties, are aligned with Syria. The Gemayels have an old, longstanding behind the scenes alliance with Israel and the United States.

As I read the record, Syria provoked the initial crisis in fall, 2004, by overplaying its hand and making the Lebanese accept its choice for president, Gen. Emile Lahoud, for a further 3-year term. PM Rafiq al-Hariri resigned over this heavy-handed interference and looked set to challenge Damascus in the spring, 2005 elections. He was then assassinated in February, 2005. The assassin was himself a Sunni fundamentalist, but the operation may have been encouraged by Syrian or pro-Syrian actors.

The assassination of Hariri touched off a mass protest demanding that Syrian troops finally leave Lebanon (a peacekeeping force came in in 1976 with a US green light, during the civil war). The Syrians were supported by the Shiite Hizbullah, which staged demonstrations nearly as big as those of the pro-Hariri forces. Hariri was a Sunni, but the coalition put together after his death included Christians and Druze, as well.

Syria did withdraw. At that point, Lebanese politics became less polarized, and elections produced a national unity government that Hizbullah also joined.

But then in summer of 2006, Israel launched its long-planned war on little Lebanon, wreaking vast destruction on south Lebanon and on the southern slums of Beirut where Hizbullah was based. Israeli policy was in part to attempt to divide and conquer the Lebanese by making the reform government of Fuad Seniora attempt to disarm Hizbullah, which maintains a small paramilitary force of 3,000 to 5,000. The Lebanese government is too weak to take on Hizbullah, but members of the March 14th reform movement did lay the blame for the war at its feet.

As a result, Hizbullah has pulled out of the government. With Gemayel's assassination, the government will fall if it loses even one more cabinet minister. Worse, the society has now been economically devastated by Israeli bombing raids and is increasingly polarized. The Olmert government's plan for the second Lebanese civil war seems increasingly plausible. Syria has stupidly played into Israel's hands in this regard. The Lebanese themselves are in danger of once again allowing themselves to be used as proxies by people like Bush and Asad and Olmert. The positive achievements of the national unity government of summer-fall 2005 have been undone. Lebanon is on the brink.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 04:47:02 AM EST
The 2 main theories are
  1. the Syrians and/or their allies
  2. The US and/or their allies

Just remember who benefits.
The Syrian allies in Lebanon were poised to win a looming election, and then be able to change the electoral system so that the Christians would no longer be massively overrepresented in parliament and so that the largest Lebanese group the Shia would not be massively underrepresented. This until the killing was almost inevitable and obviously would have been more democratic, and therefore hard for the West (US and French backers of the status quo) to argue against.
Now the anti-Syrian rhetoric rises again led by the West, and the western media, and their proxies in the Lebanese government and media. The current failed government get a breathing space and maybe now some of their previously disillusioned supporters will come back on side.
Still I expect most to present Bolton's case to the Western listener.
by observer393 on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 10:49:10 PM EST
From Pat Lang's blog:

- I am told that Pierre Gemayel was not killed by the Aoun/Shia bloc, but rather by those who wish to delay disintegration of the present political system in Lebanon.  In other words, this was a "provocation" intended to get the masses out into the streets where noise will overwhelm negotiation.  (no irony at all)  This may seem fanciful to many, but that really means that you do not know Lebanon.

Pat Lang

(Lang being former US DIA "Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East, South Asia and Terrorism," and first "Director of the Defense Humint Service," when a guy like that posts something on his website saying "I am told" and puts his signature under it one may presume he considers the source reliable.... "humint"-wise)

"Ignoring moralities is always undesirable, but doing so systematically is really worrisome." Mohammed Khatami

by eternalcityblues (parvati_roma aaaat libero.it) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 08:50:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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