In the aftermath of Pierre Gemayel's assassination the Guardian raises a key question: "cui bono" (who benefits)? The paper's answer is typical of the mainstream media response to the event which remains confined in its scope to the usual suspects.  While there is ample speculation about who might benefit, the context provided only emphasizes a Syrian (and Hizbullah) motive and avoids mention of possible benefits to any other party -- Israel or the March 14 Alliance for instance. As far as the media is concerned, Gemayel was anti-Syrian, hence a Syrian motive and with its alleged precedent of political murder further investigation is unnecessary.
To point out the obvious shortcoming in this approach, it is important to look at the context and parameters which invariably lead to the politically serviceable conclusion of Syrian culpability.
The likelihood of an attack on Iran has diminished in the face of mounting opposition from the military, diplomatic and oil elites. Tony Blair has seemingly broken ranks with Bush to suggest engaging Iran and Syria in future discussions on Iraq. Israel's humiliating defeat in Lebanon has strengthened Hizbullah politically. Leaders of the so-called March 14 Alliance have been discredited for having been abandoned by their erstwhile US-Saudi patrons during Israel's brutal assault.
All in all, the Israeli/neocon grand plan for the Middle East -- eliminating potential challengers to the Israel's regional hegemony -- had suffered major setbacks.
Then came the Gemayel assassination.
Accusations of Syrian culpability were quick to arrive as the media's conviction -- reinforced by statements from George W. Bush -- rendered evidence superfluous. Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister wasted no time in pinning the blame on Syria. Stalwarts of the "Cedar Revolution" were equally unrestrained. Questions were raised as to the wisdom of including the outlaw regime in possible discussions on Iraq. Calls for investigations into its alleged involvement in the Hariri assassination were stepped up.
In short, all the predictable consequences of the murder of an anti-Syrian Lebanese politician have come to pass.
It would appear then that Syria is the party least likely to benefit from the Gemayel murder. Israel and the March 14 Alliance on the other hand have far more to gain. Syria, however, is singled out for its alleged precedent of murdering its opponents in Lebanon. If that is the only factor setting Syria apart, then perhaps it is crucial that we investigate motive as well as precedent in the case of each key player in the region to see whether the obsessive focus on Syria is warranted.
In the mainstream media so far Syria remains the prime suspect in the Gemayel assassination. With its history of interference in Lebanese politics and its overt hostility towards the US-Saudi backed Siniora government, it is perhaps not surprising that fingers should point at Syria. Just in the past two years, five prominent Lebanese personalities have been assassinated -- all of them anti-Syrian. The answer seems straightforward -- in Fisk's words: "the butler did it." Convenient; but is it convincing?
Syria is clearly aware of the highly charged Lebanese political atmosphere where it is blamed automatically for any attack on an anti-Syrian figure. Subterfuge is certainly not beyond its means. But this, of course, ignores the timing of the incident. Recall that Syria's return to the mainstream was imminent; its services being considered for stabilizing Iraq with which it had just resumed diplomatic ties; Hizbullah, its key ally in Lebanon, had just repulsed a major Israeli invasion and was on the verge of bringing its adversaries in the Lebanese government down. It seems highly unlikely that Syria would jeopardize all this by an act for which it will most certainly bear the blame.
Some have argued that this might be Syria's way of forestalling a UN investigation into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. But it would be a rather novel way to quash an investigation in which it is being held as a prime suspect by carrying out another assassination for which it would predictably bear the blame.
Others have hinted at Syrian designs for instigating a civil war in Lebanon in order to intervene again on the pretext of bringing stability. But it is inconceivable that Syria would take such a massive risk for an outcome that is at best uncertain when its services are already being sought in ending another civil war -- in Iraq.
Finally, if it was Gemayel's vocal opposition to Syria that made him a target, there are others who are far more significant and effective who would have made eminently better targets.
Over all, the case for Syrian involvement in the assassination is so weak that even analysts in Israel have expressed doubt.
Besides Syria, it is Hizbullah that has borne the brunt of the majority of accusations of involvement in the Gemayel assassination. The case against it is the shakiest as it stands on the assumption that it wanted to precipitate the collapse of the Lebanese government -- from which its members had recently resigned -- through an assassination. With its planned street protests, in the face of which the collapse of the US backed Siniora government was seen as a foregone conclusion, the proposition seems tenuous. With the widespread prestige and popularity it had gained in defeating Israel, it is highly unlikely that it will throw it all away and check its momentum -- which for the first time was close to winning full representation for the marginalized Shia community in Lebanon's political order rigged along confessional grounds -- through an unnecessary act of murder.
March 14 Alliance
Israel's assault on Lebanon, US support for it and Saudi indifference had completely discredited the US-Saudi backed March 14 Alliance government whose collapse was imminent in the face of Hizbullah's planned street protests. The political climate in the US, its prime sponsor, has changed with the Republican defeat and the paradigm shift being considered includes bringing Syria, its bete noire, and Iran into the dialogue. Charles Harb writes in the Guardian:
The assassination . . . could not therefore have come at a more opportune moment for the March 14 alliance. Just two days before the planned start of mass public protests, the assassination halted the opposition's momentum.
What better way to check US advance towards normalization with Syria than by an act which will in all likelihood be blamed on the latter, providing ammunition to the neocons -- critics of the normalization policy and architects of the US orchestrated "Cedar Revolution".
As regards the precedent, the person most vocal in pronouncing blame on Syria, Samir Geagea, is perhaps the best place to start. In the Guardian, Brian Whitaker et al speak about Geagea's 'prophecy' just prior to the incident that 'three ministers might be assassinated' to precipitate the Siniora government's collapse. Curiously, they overlooked the most significant episode of this prophet's own past. Fisk reveals:
Geagea's lads blew up the congregation of the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in 1994; the court said that he wanted to persuade Christians that Hizbollah had committed the crime. (emphasis added)
Then there is the case of Misbah Al-Ahdab , another stalwart of the "Cedar Revolution," whose house in Tripoli was shot at by an unknown assailant.
He said that he was targeted (and implied that it was Syria behind the attack) because he praised Hariri prime minister, Fuā'ad Sanyurah. A few days later, it was revealed that Misbah's own bodyguard, Jihad 'Abdul-Hamid Al-'Aklah, was the person who shot at the house. He was arrested and according to his family, admitted that Al-Ahdab asked him to shoot at the house to get fame and media attention. Yesterday, Al-'Aklah was found dead in his cell at a Lebanese prison.
Surely the aforementioned incidents are significant grounds for the connect-the-dots sleuths of the mainstream media to venture speculation in this direction.
With the plans for an attack on Iran being shelved and the plan to extend Israel's regional hegemony in tatters, this new turn of events could not have been more fortuitous for Israel and its allies.
In their internecine struggle against the Baker Commission's old-guard, this would clearly strengthen the position of Israel-firster neocons. Sidney Blumenthal and Seymour Hersh have already reported on their concerted efforts to sabotage the commission's proceedings. The assassination jeopardizes the likelihood of Syria being brought into the dialogue on Iraq. It provides Israel and its fifth column in the US an opportunity to renew their efforts for enlisting American military power in battering regional adversaries.
The assassination could also be aimed at precipitating a civil war which directly benefits Israel: It will effectively neutralize Hizbullah, against which Israel can then wage a proxy war by arming Christian and Sunni militias.
Most importantly it serves as a useful distraction from Israel's horrific crimes against the defenseless Palestinians such as the recent murder of 19 sleeping men, women and children in Beit Hanoun.
Besides ample motive, it is the sheer abundance of precedents that leaves one baffled as to why the possibility of Israeli involvement has not been considered in the mainstream media.
First there is the series of bombings in Baghdad in 1950 whose targets included a Synagogue and other Jewish gathering places which precipitated the exodus of Iraqi Jews to Israel . It was since revealed that the bombings were carried out by the Israeli intelligence to encourage immigration to Israel.
Next there is the infamous Lavon affair in 1954 when Mossad planted bombs at US-UK installations in Egypt in order to forestall the likely rapprochement between Egypt and the United States. Feeling insecure and isolated, Israel sent a team of Mossad saboteurs under Colonel Avraharn Dar to commit the act of sabotage which they hoped will be blamed on Egypt, scuttling Nasser's growing relations with the West. The saboteurs were captured and exposed shortly afterwards, causing Israel major embarrassment (This did not prevent Israel from honoring the men for their service).
Most relevant to the present discussion, however, is the Israeli attempt to assassinate John Gunther Dean, the US ambassador to Lebanon, in 1979.
En route from his residence in Lebanon's hills:
Dean's limousine and convoy took 21 rifle bullets. The automobile bearing the ambassador and Mrs. Dean was also struck by two light anti-tank weapons. The shot-out tires on the Deans' bulletproof car automatically reinflated . . . Some shots struck where Dean was sitting, but bulletproof plastic windows saved his life."
Picked up by Lebanese security, the anti-tank canisters had made-in-America markings. After unanswered telegrams to the State Department and all but silent responses to his telephone inquiries, Dean eventually learned that the anti-tank weapons were sold and shipped to Israel in 1974.
The aim, once again, was to implicate its prime adversary in Lebanon -- the PLO at the time -- in order to gain fuller support from the Carter administration. (Evidence of the botched attempt has since been made available at Carter's presidential library in Atlanta)
Elsewhere, assassinations in Lebanon have undesirable consequences -- they bestow undeserved martyrdom. Pierre Gemayel -- member of the Fascist Phalange which carried out the massacre of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila under the protection of Ariel Sharon's guns -- is the latest on this list. In the death and destruction that Lebanon has witnessed throughout its recent history -- particularly this year -- this assassination is of little significance. Its real importance, however, is its political utility, which ultimately relies on media credulity: the wars, interventions and ethnic/sectarian strife for which it will be used as a pretext. Although the official story is already crumbling, it remains to be seen whether the mainstream is able to challenge the official truth and entertain the more plausible alternative.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
is a researcher at
Spinwatch. His regular commentaries appear on