Hariri’s Death and the Danger of Resumed Major Conflict in Lebanon

by Gregory R. Copley, President, International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA), Washington, USA


It seems clear that the Syrian and Iranian governments are moving along a well-planned path, with

solid strategic reasoning, to ignite a renewed civil war in Lebanon. Apart from other priorities, the

administrations in Damascus and Tehran seem committed to seeing the current political framework

of Lebanon overturned and “democracy” instated so that a Shi’a government could be installed,

reflecting the fact that the Shi’a is the largest confessional group in the country.[1]


The promise by Syrian Pres. Dr Bashar al-Asad in early March 2005 that he would be prepared

to withdraw all Syrian forces from Lebanon[2] is by no means a guarantee of the sovereignty of

Lebanon, nor of peace in the region, even assuming that all uniformed Syrian military personnel are,

in fact, withdrawn over the coming six months or so. Syria, after all, retains — with Iran — direct

control over HizbAllah forces based in Lebanon and less directly controls or influences other armed groups

operating in, from, and through Lebanon. Indeed, it is more than probable that, without necessarily

anticipating the scale and coordination of international pressures for a military withdrawal from Lebanon,

the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, 60, on February 15, 2005,  was deliberately

designed to stir a major internal conflict — a civil war — in Lebanon which would force Israel to re-involve

itself in Lebanon.


Even more, the Hariri assassination was almost certainly designed to provoke a situation whereby Syria,

supported by the Iranian clerics, could create a situation in Lebanon whereby the Shi’a majority could be

assisted in seizing national power and eradicating, once and for all, the 1943 power-sharing National Pact

which artificially assigns the Presidency to the Maronite community, the Premiership to a Sunni Muslim, the

Parliamentary Speakership in the Chamber of Deputies to a Shi’a, and so on.


Under this arrangement, the Deputy Speaker is a Greek Orthodox; the Defense Minister is a Druze; and the

Commander of the military is a Maronite Christian. The Ta’if Accords of 1989, while not accepted by all parties,

called for the Cabinet to be equally divided between Christians and Muslims. Even that is unacceptable to the clerical

leadership in Tehran, although the Syrian Government has found that it has successfully worked with Maronite

Christian leaders in Lebanon in the past (including the current Presidency of Emile Lahoud).


Utilizing the example of Iraq, the now-dominant Shi’a could argue that an overthrow of the old National Pact and

the Ta’if Accords would, in fact, bring “democracy” to Lebanon: the majority would rule. It is unlikely that all of

the non-Shi’a would unite to outnumber the Shi’a in elections, and even though by no all Shi’a means follow the

leadership of HizbAllah and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.


And the Syrian-Iranian combine has the strength to make the changes in Lebanon. Even without a direct, uniformed

Syrian military presence, HizbAllah, in particular, has been built up during the past few years with massive missile

and rocket capabilities, far outstripping anything which the Lebanese Armed Forces could field.[3]


But such an initiative would be opposed vehemently by Lebanon’s Sunni and Christian communities, as well as by

external forces. The base-line democratic theory of the rule of the majority does not work where the rights and

opportunities of the minorities are not enshrined in both law and conscience.

Major Shi’a demonstrations — involving many tens of thousands of people — in Beirut on March 8, 2005, in support of

Syria were ascribed by foreign observers to a rejection of foreign interference in the affairs of Lebanon. This is

patently incorrect; they were a reflection of foreign interference (specifically Syria and Iran), and were organized by

HizbAllah and Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah who are funded and armed by Iran and Syria. The Western press noted that

the Shi’a rally, which followed even larger anti-Syrian rallies (up to 150,000 strong) in Beirut in preceding days, was

equally not aimed against other Lebanese, but merely against “foreign interference”. Given the strength of both

camps’ opinions (one for, one against Syrian military and intelligence presence in Lebanon), it is clear that both

camps could easily be moved to harden their positions vis-à-vis each other.


It has for some time been evident that HizbAllah, and the Syrian and Iranian governments, have been ready for a major

conflict. The Iranian Government has been unable to provoke the US or other Coalition forces into responding to Iranian

Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC: Pasdaran) goading to create a cross-border military engagement which would be seen

as a US-led attack on Iran. The murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri was an oblique, and yet obvious, way to

start the process.


Not only does catalyst action of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri blur the question of responsibility for the renewal of

hostilities, it revives them in such a way as to create a maelstrom into which Israel can be easily drawn — or blamed —

even if it attempts not to respond to the attacks which will inevitably come against it from HizbAllah and other forces in

the Lebanese Beqa’a area.


The escalation which is now set to occur serves several purposes:


1. It provides the Iranian clerics the opportunity to re-establish control over the larger dynamic of the region, even if it has

achieved less than it desired in Iraq. The situation with regard to Iraq is no worse for the Iranian clerics than it was under

Saddam, and in many ways it is much better. And by reasserting control over the dynamic in Lebanon, it moves the borders

for Iran’s “defense” outward. Under the 2003-04 dynamic, the boundaries of pressure were closing in on the Iranian clerics;

now, they are moving outward again.


2. It sets the opportunity to change the governmental structure of Lebanon so that a Shi’a administration can come to power.

This would move Lebanon away from its traditional dynamic as a Mediterranean-oriented trading power toward being an

Eastward-looking country, with allegiances to Syria and Iran.


3. It allows a revival of the dispute with Israel, and sets the tone for Syria and Iran to dominate the leadership of this dispute,

helping to solidify the leadership of both the clerical powers in Tehran and the ‘Alawite minority leadership in Damascus.


4. It reignites the hostility toward Israel at a critical time when an Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) modus vivendi might have

been possible, and could stop Israel from defining de facto borders along the West Bank and with Gaza. And in this context, it also

undermines PA Chairman Mahmud ‘Abbas by almost certainly dividing loyalties — as the new conflict escalates — among the various

Palestinian factions.


5. It uses the US policy of “democratizing” the Middle East against the US.


The fact that Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has said that a full withdrawal of Syria's troops was unacceptable while Lebanon remained in a

“state of war” with Israel is significant: Israel and Lebanon are not, in fact, in a “state of war”, either declared or undeclared at present.

Sheikh Hassan’s HizbAllah is in a “state of war” with Israel, and that shows the approach being taken.


At the same time, there are indirect consequences of the actions. The current and anticipated situations in Lebanon reinforce the

xenophobia and religious tendencies which are coming to the fore in neighboring Turkey, and this certainly serves Syrian and Iranian

purposes in that this tendency breaks Turkey away from its traditional relationships with the US and Israel.


Some observers have indicated that the “success” which the US, French, Saudi, and German governments have had in exerting pressure

on Syria to start to abide by UN Resolution 1559 of September 2004, which demands the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon,

indicates that similar pressures could be brought to bear on Turkey to withdraw its forces from Cyprus in compliance to several UN

resolutions. But such pressure would only be brought to bear on Turkey if a Turkish-Western break was seen as inevitable or actual.

In the meantime, the Turkish General Staff (Türk Genelkurmay Baskanligi: TGB) will see the potential for collapse in Lebanon as an

urgent reason to retain and possibly reinforce its military presence off the Lebanese coast.


And lest there be any misunderstandings about whether the Bashar al-Asad Government is becoming more attuned to the West and toward

a more moderate approach to issues — as has been anticipated by, for example, some key British officials, on the basis of Pres. Bashar’s

marriage to a Sunni Muslim Englishwoman, Asma Akhras — the publication in 2005 of a new, Syrian edition of The Protocols of the Elders

of Zion should dispel such doubts. This virulently anti-Semitic document, purporting to be a Jewish plan for world domination, has long

been discredited, and its publication aims at inciting anti-Israeli sentiment.


The new book — shown with the permission of the Egyptian Government at the Egyptian International Book Fair in January-February 2005

— is published by Dar Al-Awael Publishing House with the express permission of the Syrian Ministry of Information, and under the banner of

[First Lt.-Gen.] Mustafa Tlass, until May 2004 Syrian Minister of Defense.


It should also not be overlooked that the overall new dynamic led by Tehran and Damascus has a distinctly anti-Saudi character.

Quite apart from the fact that the assassination of Rafiq Hariri was claimed by the previously-unknown[4] An-Nosra wal Jihad fi Bilad

al-Sham (Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria)  who said that was a “suicide attack” [there is no evidence that it was a suicide attack]

to avenge Hariri's close ties with the Saudi Government, the dynamic aims at consolidating an Iranian/Shi’a controlled arc over the region,

something which is distinctly threatening to the Wahabbist-Sunni leadership of Saudi Arabia, which has its own dissident Shi’a minority

in the Eastern Province to face. In this instance, then, whether it is realized widely in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or not, there is for

the first time real (although discreet) common cause between Saudi Arabia and Israel.


Whether the Saudi leadership could publicly resist the populist appeal of the new Syrian-led anti-Semitism is, however, questionable.

But a renewed focus on “an external threat” — which Israel has been projected to be by the Iranian, and most Arab, leaderships over

the past decades — is not what the Saudi leadership needs at present: Crown Prince ‘Abdallah bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud has been trying to

bring about a restructuring which would result in a more representative base of government in Saudi Arabia, something which would

allow domestic frustrations to be channeled and defused more productively than the old approach of constantly pointing to Israel as the

source of all their problems.[5]


Overall, then, an overall perspective on the developments which have their focus on the murder of Rafiq Hariri shows the importance of

Iran, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. And while the short-term headlines belong to the West, the longer-term planning has been

the domain of Tehran and Damascus.


[1] It is estimated that 65 percent of the Muslim population in Lebanon is Shi’a. In 1999, out of a total population of 3.77-million Lebanese, 70 percent of the

population (2.64-million) was estimated to be Muslim, and of these 65 percent (1.7-million) were estimated to be Sh’a.

Ref.: www.islamicweb.com/beliefs/cults/shia_population.htm.  It is believed, through anecdotal evidence, that the Shi’a population has risen more substantially

than other population sectors during the past five years, but, in any event, the Shi’a represent the largest single confessional bloc in Lebanon. To this should be

added the small, but influential, ‘Alawite (Shi’a sect) grouping. When the 1943 National Pact was drafted, the ‘Alawite community — also known as Nusayris;

believers in the divinity of Ali, brother of the Prophet Mohammed — were regarded by mainstream Islam as apostates and infidels, and thus sought to avoid

the annexation of Lebanon to Syria. Subsequently, however, because the leadership of Syria passed into ‘Alawite hands with Hafez al-Asad’s coup in 1970, the

Iranian clerical leadership which came to power under “Ayatollah” Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 caused the (now-deceased, believed assassinated by the Libyan

Government) Iranian (Qom)-born Lebanese cleric, Imam Sayyed Moussa as-Sadr to issue a fatwa to the effect that the ‘Alawis were Muslims. This edict is still

controversial, especially considering the fact that several ‘Alawi beliefs are seen by mainstream Islam as heretical, and the belief that although the sect has

some origins in the Sevener Movement, a pre-Islamic Christian Gnosticism, which was subsumed in the Eighth Century with the 11th Shi’a Imam al-Hasan

al-Askari (d.873) and his pupil Ibn Nusayr (d.868). The small ‘Alawite community in Lebanon (some 50,000) is now seen as important to bolstering the position

of Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Asad, given that ‘Alawites comprise only some 11 percent (1,950,000) of the Syrian population.


[2] The commitment to abide by the Ta’if Accords was reiterated following a summit of Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Asad and Lebanese Pres. Emile Lahoud in

Damascus on March 7, 2005, although the US Government, and others, said that the commitment was insufficiently strong.


[3] Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, on February 14, 2003, in an report by Senior Editor Yossef Bodansky entitled Iran’s Delicate Transformation Pushes Clerical

Leadership in Direction of Further Support for Terrorism, Conflict, noted: “Hence, Tehran committed to preparing to spark an Arab-Israeli war by providing the

HizbAllah with an arsenal of heavy weapons, including more than 10,000 missiles and rockets. First to arrive in the Summer of 2002 were several hundred l

ong-range, Iranian-manufactured 240mm Fajr-3 with range of 40km/25 miles and 333mm Fajr-5 rockets with range of 72km/45miles. Both missiles have a

standard 220lb/100kg warhead. Strategically, most important was the delivery in the Autumn of 2002 of numerous Zalzal-2 missiles to the Iranian Revolutionary

Guard Corps (IRGC: Pasdaran) contingent in southern Lebanon. Although not accurate, the 610mm Zalzal-2 has a range of 210km/130miles with a standard

1323lb/600kg warhead, covering all of central Israel to the northern Gaza Strip. The Zalzal-2 is thus capable of easily reaching the greater Tel Aviv area. With a

smaller warhead, the Zalzal-2’s range can be extended to at least 320km/200miles, which means covering Israel’s Dimona-area nuclear reactor facilities. The

Zalzal-2 missiles are hidden in underground storage bases in Tyre and Sidon areas under Pasdaran control.”


[4] In such circumstances, “previously unknown” often implies that a group has been created for the occasion to take responsibility for a certain action, and that

it does not, in fact, exist.


[5] 5. Saudi Arabia had, by March 3, 2005, undergone its first-ever community-level elections, with municipal elections held in Eastern Province, Asir, Jizan, Najran,

and Baha Regions. On February 10, 2005, first-round municipal elections took place in Makkah (Mecca), Madinah, Qasim, Tabuk, Hail, Al-Jouf. Northern Border

Province municipal elections were scheduled to take place on April 21, 2005, in the last phase of the process.


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