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U.S. officials exploit Gemayel assassination
Is Lebanon headed for civil war?

December 1, 2006 | Page 5

ALAN MAASS analyzes U.S. motives in Lebanon following the assassination of Christian political leader Pierre Gemayel.

FOLLOWING THE assassination of a right-wing government minister, the U.S. government is stoking conflicts in Lebanon that could lead to another terrible civil war.

Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon's industry minister and a leader of the Phalange Party--formed by Gemayel's grandfather on the model of fascist Francisco Franco's party in Spain--was killed in an ambush of his limousine in Beirut November 21.

Within hours, U.S. leaders were accusing the Syrian government--and in some cases, the Shiite political party Hezbollah--of responsibility. George Bush said the assassination showed "the viciousness of those who are trying to destabilize" Lebanon, and linked the killing to "attempts by Syria, Iran and their allies within Lebanon to foment instability and violence."

But the U.S. government and its ally Israel are the main fomenters of "violence and instability" in Lebanon.

What else to read

Read Jonathan Cook's analysis of the Gemayel assassination "Who Benefits?: Syria as Fall Guy for Gemayel's Death" on the CounterPunch Web site, along with regular articles documenting the crisis in Lebanon and the wider Middle East.

In a recent issue of the International Socialist Review, Toufic Haddad's article "Birth Pangs of a New Middle East" sets out the backdrop of the Israeli war and analyzes its consequences.

Socialist Worker's coverage of the Israeli war on Lebanon is collected in a special archive on Israel and Palestine--including articles and interviews by Jon Van Camp on the rise of Hezbollah; Rania Masri on the impact of the war; and Elaine Hagopian on Lebanon's history of war and resistance.

 

When Israel launched a war on Lebanon this past summer, the U.S. government not only didn't oppose it--it rushed shipments of fresh bombs and missiles to Israel. Israel's war plan--drawn up in close coordination with the U.S., by most accounts--was aimed at destroying Hezbollah, the leading organization in Lebanon's resistance to Israel, but seen by the U.S. and Israel as a pawn for Syria and Iran, enemies in the so-called "war on terror."

Israeli bombs killed more than 1,000 people and drove one-quarter of Lebanon's population to flee their homes. And now, Bush is claiming to be against terrorism in Lebanon.

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THIS IS only because the U.S. sees the Gemayel assassination as an opportunity--to bolster the pro-U.S. Lebanese government and counter growing support for Hezbollah after its spectacular success against the Israeli-U.S. war.

Hezbollah's base is among the Shia poor of southern Lebanon, but its support spread with Israel's assault this summer. An opinion poll in late July found 87 percent of people in Lebanon supported Hezbollah's struggle against Israeli aggression.

Since the war, Hezbollah has led an alliance of opposition parties in demanding political concessions from the Lebanese government--which is controlled by the U.S.-backed March 14 Coalition, an alliance of Sunni, Druze and Christian parties that won elections following last year's so-called Cedar Revolution.

Several weeks before Gemayel's killing, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora rejected Hezbollah's demand for a new government with more power for Shiites. Six Shiite ministers resigned from the cabinet, and Hezbollah announced plans for mass demonstrations to bring down the Siniora government.

Shiites are the largest segment of the Lebanon's population, but they are effectively disenfranchised under a political system set up when France ended its colonial rule 60 years ago that guarantees the predominance of Maronite Christian parties like the Phalange.

Hezbollah wants a more equitable system for Shiites, but the opposition it is leading unites other Shia parties with Sunni organizations and even a mostly Christian party led by former Gen. Michel Aoun.

Aoun was a well-known Phalangist leader. In 1988, he was appointed prime minister by Pierre Gemayel's father, only to be toppled a few years later by Syrian forces when they took over the Lebanese government, with the backing of the U.S. at the time. Now, however, Aoun is allied with Hezbollah against the March 14 Coalition government, his party claims to represent a majority of Christian voters, and he is the early favorite to be elected president--an office still restricted to Christian candidates--by the parliament sometime before next September.

Gemayel's assassination has hardened elements of the Lebanese government against Hezbollah's challenge and increased the threat of civil war in a country with a long history of religious and ethnic conflict. "We will sell our blood to buy weapons and confront [Hezbollah]," Walid Eido, a member of parliament from a Sunni Muslim party that is part of the governing coalition, told the New York Times. "We will never let them control the country." Lebanon's business community called a two-day lockout to protest the assassination and stiffen the government's resolve.

All this is good news for the U.S. and Israel, which have a lot at stake in the continued dominance of the March 14 Coalition.

The pro-U.S. alliance gained power after protests shook Lebanon following the February 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which was blamed on Syria. Conveniently forgetting U.S. support for Syria's takeover in Lebanon 14 years earlier--orchestrated by his father in exchange for Syrian support for Bush Sr.'s first Gulf War against Iraq--the Bush Jr. administration used Hariri's assassination to demand the withdrawal of Syrian military forces.

But though Syria had clearly worn out its welcome with large parts of Lebanese society, the other aim of the U.S. campaign was disarmament of Hezbollah--a key demand for Israel, but not for the bulk of the Lebanese people. Thus, the U.S. set in motion a showdown that culminated in Israel's war earlier this year.

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ACCORDING TO U.S. officials, Syria had a motive for orchestrating Gemayel's killing--to bring down the Siniora government before it could vote to accept a United Nations tribunal that would implicate Syria in Hariri's assassination.

But the logic doesn't really follow. The killing accelerated a vote to approve the tribunal--and has given Christian parties loyal to the U.S.-backed government a way of winning back supporters from Aoun, now collaborating with Hezbollah.

As left-wing writer Jonathan Cook pointed out in an article on the CounterPunch Web site, the Hariri assassination had faded from people's minds in Lebanon, especially after the Israeli war. Now, Gemayel's killing has thrust it--and Syria's alleged responsibility--back into the spotlight.

This doesn't rule out a Syrian connection to the assassination. But supporters of Hezbollah in Lebanon believe a rivalry within the Phalange is at least as likely as the source of the plot.

There is also the possibility of U.S. and/or Israeli involvement--an explanation ignored by the American media, though it can't be denied that the killing serves U.S. and Israeli interests in crucial ways.

In addition to strengthening the hand of right-wing parties and militias that Israel and the U.S. have used to serve their interests in the past, Israel would benefit from increased divisions within Lebanon--still more from a new Lebanese civil war. It would be in a much better position to renew its onslaught and settle scores with Hezbollah if Hezbollah were engaged in battles with rival militias within Lebanon.

Plus, as Cook writes, by driving Syria "back into the fold of the 'axis of evil,'" Gemayel's assassination will hamper Syrian overtures and calls for renewed negotiations with Israel that might lead to a peace deal and resolution of territorial disputes.

As for the U.S., the Bush administration is using the killing as an excuse to increase military aid to the Siniora government--and, domestically, to shift attention from the disaster in Iraq onto old scapegoats.

When its hold on Iraq was threatened by the rise of resistance attacks, the U.S. coldly manipulated sectarian tensions as part of a divide-and-conquer strategy--setting the stage for the horrific violence now gripping Iraq. With a pro-U.S. government on the defensive and a Shiite political party with ties to Washington's enemies in Syria, Iraq and Iran on the threshold of new gains, there's no reason to believe that the U.S. wouldn't resort to the same in Lebanon.

Whether or not the U.S. or Israel had a direct or indirect hand in it, they have been quick to exploit Gemayel's assassination.

The U.S. and Israel are the main purveyors of violence in the Middle East, and they are using the crisis in Lebanon to set the stage for more--in the hopes of defending their imperial interests throughout the region.

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