The Gemayel Assassination

I appeared on the PBS News Hour to discuss the Lebanon situation across from Hisham Milhem this evening – Wednesday, November 22. The transcript is here.

Lebanon Struggles to Maintain Stability After Assassination
PBS – USA, Nov. 22, 2006
RAY SUAREZ: Hisham, Joshua Landis suggests both sides playing hands where the United States doesn't hold very many good cards, doesn't have very many good …

Commentary: The Lebanese Civil War is not over. The battle for control of Lebanon was never confined to parliament as it should have been in order to mark a true end to civil strife. Instead it has continued to be fought on the streets Beirut with assassinations and the blood of innocents. The murder of Gemayel reminds us that the struggle for Lebanon remains a blood sport. 

The targeted assassinations of Hariri, Gemayel, and many others by the Lebanese opposition demonstrates its efficacy and cold blooded precision.

By contrast, the scatter bomb has come to symbolize the misdirected efforts of the United States and its allies to retain Lebanon in a Western orbit. Israel failed to kill Hizbullah's leader Shaykh Nasrallah this summer, or to assassinate his lieutenants, as it said it would. Instead it laid down a bed of scatter bombs in southern Lebanon that continues to kill or maim primarily women and children. The pro-American Lebanese have been unable to protect their leaders or kill their opponents. Not so the anti-American forces in Lebanon. The superior firepower of the West has done little but stir up a hornets nest and underscore its impotence in the Lebanese theater of war. This is the hard reality of Lebanon.

If the situation continues along this path, the Lebanese government will be forced to bend to the opposition's demands and either call new elections or expand the cabinet to give Hizbullah and its allies veto power government decisions. [end]

I have not been posting because I am in Chicago visiting friends for Thanksgiving. I did not bring my computer for the first time in three years!

All the same, I have been busy talking with reporters, all of whom want to know if Syria is responsible. Here are a few of the news articles that have used quotes of mine in the last few days.

Gemayel's Killing Hits US Mideast Policy
Naharnet – Beirut,Lebanon
An early casualty may be the idea of dialogue with U.S. foes Damascus and Tehran. "It is going to be much harder," said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert and co-director of Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma. …

Lebanon "certainly was the sort of crown jewel in the administration's Middle East portfolio, but they are going to have to regroup," said Schenker who served Bush as a Pentagon Middle East advisor.

Bilal Saab said the failure of the Saniora government would be a "setback for the Bush administration."

"The Americans believe that this government is capable of advancing U.S. interests — the flourishing of democracy in the region — and they see Lebanon an example of democracy taking its way," he said.

Landis was blunter. "Lebanon is the last success story. If it falls, it is the end," he said.

"The U.S. is going to use Lebanon as a battering ram," against Syria and Iran, Landis said. Syria meanwhile, "feels the tide is running out on America's imperial authority in the Middle East."(AFP)

Lebanon slaying dims chances of US overture to Syria
International Herald Tribune, By Sally Buzbee, Wed, Nov. 22, 2006
… since. "In some ways you can read this as upping the ante," said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. Most …

Beirut aftershocks hit US Mideast policy
Khaleej Times – Dubai,United Arab Emirates, Wed, Nov. 22, 2006
… “It is going to be much harder,” said Joshua Landis…

Syria Is Prime Suspect, But Not the Only One, in Gemayel …
Voice of America – USA, By Gary Thomas, 22 November 2006

… Joshua Landis, a Syria expert and co-director of the Center for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says Gemayel's killing could have been done by …

Iran summit idea could assist US, analysts say
San Francisco Chronicle – CA, USA

Washington's in paralysis. They don't know what their policy will be," said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. Given the fears that Iraq may collapse into complete chaos, said Landis, "Iraq and the neighbors cannot afford to wait two, three, four months for Washington to figure out who's on first, who's on second and what their Iraq policy is. So they're driving the situation right now."

While it's unlikely the White House is prepared to begin those talks without preconditions, such as Iran abandoning its nuclear program or Syria doing more to secure its borders, some analysts warn that America stands to lose even more if it simply stands by while Iran and Syria sit down with Iraq to discuss that tattered nation's future.

"You don't want that. America wants to be leading this policy and working together with these people," he said. "If this meeting doesn't happen, the next one will, unless America gets on the phone and talks to both of these capitals and says we're going to work something out with you."

Envisioning US Talks With Iran and Syria
New York Times, Michael Slackman, Nov. 19, 2006
… “Syria is quite realistic, if proud and stubborn,” said Joshua Landis, an assistant professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma.“It will accept serious American offers and insist that the problems be dealt with comprehensively.”

Focusing on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israel-Palestinian conflict might be a realistic way for the United States to navigate with Iran and Syria. That is true partly because the Iranians and Syrians both understand, no matter how reluctant they are to express it publicly, that the United States can help them stabilize their regimes and help settle regional problems. “You can’t have a deal in the Middle East without the Americans, regardless of the judgment we carry,” said an Arab diplomat who spoke on the condition his name and nationality not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the topic.

But bolstering those regimes is a lot to ask of the United States….

In any event, Mr. Hadley said last week, America would never trade away its determination to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in return for help in Iraq.

Curbing the Crisis in Lebanon
Voice of America, 16 November 2006

… This conflict, says Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma, focuses on two diverging views. "One is that Lebanon belongs with the West, with the United States.  And that's what's being upheld by the March 14 crowd.  The other is that the United States is bad for the Middle East.  It's brought war.  It's brought an Israeli invasion, and that Lebanon belongs with Syria, [it] belongs with the Arab nations, and belongs with Islam.  And that is the major dispute and it's the fundamental identity question that Lebanon has yet to resolve," says Landis.

Comments (23)

Abhinav Aima said:

There are, broadly speaking, two views on the latest in a series of killings of prominent anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon:

1. The pro-Syrian view is that these killings are timed to check Syria’s growing influence in the region by the Israeli-American hegemony enterprise… The proponents of this view generally point in the direction of Israel’s network of agents, assassins and false-flag operatives as being the source of this violence.

2. The anti-Syrian view is that the killings are carried out by Syria, or by rogue elements of Syrian intelligence authorities (possibly using radical Palestinian hit teams), when Syria believes it is in a position of imposing its will on Lebanon. Syrian allies, such as the Shiite groups Amal and Hizbollah, are seen as the shadow operatives of Syrian and Iranian policy in Lebanon.

The proponents of both views point to Syria’s normalization of relations with Iraq this week as proof that the assassination of Pierre Gemayel is linked to the growth of Syrian influence in the region.

I, personally, have little evidence that either take on the incidents of the last two years is conclusive… Those familiar with my work might remember my arguments with An Nahar editor Gebran Tueni (also killed by a car bomb in December 2005) on the question of Bashir Gemayel’s work as a CIA and Israeli operative in Lebanon… I believe, from my reading of the history of the Lebanese civil war, that the Gemayels bet on the wrong parties in the civil war (Israel and the Reaganites), and the parties allied with Syria and Iran got the better of the exchange, thanks largely to America’s desperate need for allies in its first war against Saddam Hussein in 1991.

Having said that, the post-9/11 doctrine of the Bushiite and Likudian NeoConmen has largely been focused on rewriting the end of the Lebanese civil war by bringing the pro-Israel and pro-Reaganites (read pro-Bushiite) Lebanese leaders back to power, and thereby soundly defeating the Syrian and Iranian allies in Lebanon.

The problem, of course, is that the Bushiite-Likudian alliance might have to restart the Lebanese civil war in order to achieve that goal. And I am not entirely sure that the situation in Iraq, or this summer’s failed Israeli invasion of Lebanon, have changed their minds. They are, in my opinion, misunderestimating the regional power and prowess of the Syrians and the Iranians, and their allies in Iraq.

November 23rd, 2006, 7:11 am


Frank al Irlandi said:

Dear Dr Landis

“One is that Lebanon belongs with the West, with the United States. And that’s what’s being upheld by the March 14 crowd.

Er we residents of the Peninsula of Asia might feel a bit peeved at being lumped in with the Americans.

Lebanon along with Israel, Palestine and Syria is our Near Abroad, described in the EU policies as the Neighbourhood.

We wish out Neighbours to share in our Prosperity and Security.

The Economist last week described the events of the last five years as having done enormous damage to the America brand.

So perhaps there is a third identity.

Phil Bobbit’s idea of the decline of the nation state and the rise of the market state may provide a way out of the connundrum.

November 23rd, 2006, 7:58 am


t_desco said:

The list of suspects seems to be quite long in this case.

Unlike Prof. Landis, I wouldn’t include Hizbullah (perhaps you can convince me otherwise), because I just don’t see the motive. Hizbullah was planning to take to the streets today and now March 14 is out in force. The assassination has also weakened Hizbullah’s main ally, Gen. Aoun. I find the idea that the killing of a certain number of ministers would lead to the toppling of the government (on the basis of a legal technicality) to be extremely silly.

So on the list of suspects we find:

– a schizophrenic Syrian government and a dumb Syrian mukhabarat

A schizophrenic policy can be the result of a power struggle. (Sometimes there are purely medical reasons for a schizophrenic policy, like in the case of Turkmenbashi, but I think we can safely rule out such a possibiliy in the case of Syria).

Even a dumb Syrian mukhabarat would somehow have to be linked to or involved in such a power struggle. Interestingly, some commentators (in Haaretz and the Independent) have suggested that the assassination could have been the work of a rogue faction in the Syrian intelligence organizations.

One could even imagine a more sophisticated level of stupidity. Assuming that the Syrian mukhabarat was involved in the assassination of Hariri, to kill another anti-Syrian politician now when it is clearly not in Syria’s interest could be seen as a way to create doubts about Syrian responsibility in the Hariri case. The problem with this approach is that, obviously, the killing of Pierre Gemayel will have no influence on the findings of Serge Brammertz.

– Israel

I had expressed my doubts about Israeli involvement in the killing of Gebran Tueni because I didn’t see why they would kill an ally for so little political gain. In this case it is different. The political gain is enormous. The killing has effectively stopped Hizbullah’s march to (more) power. Aoun has been weakened. Lahoud and Syria have been weakened. The March 14 movement has been revitalized. We know that in the recent war Israel bombed Christian and Sunni areas with the aim of creating a backlash against Hizbullah. They would be happy about a civil war in Lebanon that would occupy and weaken Hizbullah and give them a free reign to deal with Iran (which is being perceived as an existential threat).
Nobody doubts that Israel has the technical means to carry out such an assassination. For example, in recent months, Israeli politicians openly acknowledged that efforts were underway to kill Hasan Nasrallah in Beirut.
The fact that the assassins didn’t even wear masks also suggests that they didn’t fear to be recognized in Lebanon and probably left the country very quickly (as it is typically the case in an intelligence operation).

– some people within the March 14 movement; Geagea? Jumblatt?

Is it conceivable that they would they do such a thing? It was a bit surprising to see how Geagea was immediately trying to convert this tragedy into political gain by asking for Lahoud’s resignation.

– al-Qa’ida/al-Qa’ida style groups (as mentioned by Prof. Landis)

It seems that, unfortunately, they have to be included in any such list nowadays and probably for some time to come.

The style of the killing is a bit unusual for such groups, but I remember seeing videos aired by CNN which showed training for such assassinations taking place in al-Qa’ida camps in Afghanistan. Also, remember the case of Laurence Foley who “was killed by gunshots from a 7 mm silenced pistol as he walked to his car outside his Amman home” October 28, 2002.

November 23rd, 2006, 2:20 pm


Ehsani2 said:

Speaking of suspects:

What about Rumsfeld?

His motive is clear of course. Sabotage the work of Baker (his nemesis)and ensure that Syria/Iran will not be negotiated with.

P.S. I am told that has not been seen at his ranch in New Mexico lately

November 23rd, 2006, 2:36 pm


ausamaa said:

To get too deeply involved in analyzing who is/are behind those murders is a futile exercise because 1) we are dealing with highly complex Security and Intelligence operational matters that require Expert Knowledge and Understanding, and 2) we, the public, are not always given the Full Facts available. So, we have neither the information, nor the expertise to delve into those dark corridors. Until now for example, the truth about JFK assassination is not known or revealed, the Identity of the Fifth MI6 ring member who formed the KGB’s ring of five inside MI 6 is not known or revealed. The assassination of King Faisal, the Death of Arafat, etc…

So our analysis, as a public, has to be based on Political facts, Logic and Deduction. Who benefits from this, which loses from that? And even here, we have to do it at the Macro level and not at the Micro Level. The Big Picture, that is. Again, simply because we do not have enough information on the true motives, the real alliances, the private agendas of the small players, the intera-parties relationships, and finally, the un-political -i.e. financial- aspects involved.

We can play the pro and con game forever if we choose. However, I do not think that will get us anywhere, especially if we consider the fact that the Media is in the main not only manipulated, but totally and one-sidedly controlled.

Hence it is much easier to resort to examining the big picture through a loss/benefit analysis, and through reading the Publicized Strategic Agendas, Capabilities and Positions of the Main Players with the least possible amount of complications. Strategies and strategic requirements require broad alliances and have to be communicated one way or another to large audiences and can not be kept secret. Cover-ups and misinformation will always be there. But both are a lot easier to discern (and they do usually discern themselves even in the short term), is a lot easier than analyzing the positions and intentions of small warlords like Jaja and Junblat or a Hariri Jr. who can hardly utter one complete sentence correctly.

In Lebanon’s assassinations case, let us go back three years in time and look at the publicized strategies and agendas and the Main players, their given situation and needs at each point of time, and at who benefited most from all those assassinations in Lebanon, maybe a more obvious and a simpler answer lies there.

November 23rd, 2006, 3:20 pm


Ehsani2 said:

Speaking of other suspects than Rumsefeld:

Norway’s and Denmark’s secret services are supposedly looking to expand their interests and influence in Lebanon and the region.

November 23rd, 2006, 3:51 pm


Ehsani2 said:

Off topic:

One wonders why a savvy business mind like Mr. Makhlouf would decide to sell shares of his prized company assets at seemingly “cheap” valuations.

According to the new buyer, the company is “one of the cheapest telecom assets in the Middle East today”.

Surely, Mr. Makhlouf couldn’t possibly be so naive as to sell such assets on the cheap.

One also wonders why Syrian citizens were not offered such cheap shares in place of a UAE based private equity firm.

I sure would have liked to have personally invested.

Regrettably, I may not have been able to offer Mr. Makhlouf what this outfit may have been able to in a possible quid pro quo transaction/s

>By Will McSheehy
> Nov. 21 (Bloomberg) — Shuaa Partners, the private equity
>unit of Shuaa Capital, the largest investment bank in the
>United Arab Emirates, has invested $15 million in Syriatel, the
>chief executive said.
> “This company is one of the cheapest telecom assets in
>the Middle East today,” Iyad Duwaji said in an interview in
>Abu Dhabi today. Earlier this year the U.A.E. firm started a
>$100 million private-equity fund focused on Syria.
> Syriatel has 52 percent market share of Syria’s mobile
>telecom market, he said. The Shuaa chief executive declined to
>comment on what percentage of the company the investment
> The fund is the second private equity fund for Shuaa
>Partners and its investments will include telecommunications,
>financial services and the hospitality industry.

November 23rd, 2006, 5:40 pm


Idaf said:

Dr. Landis published an article I wrote 3 months before the latest assassination. It was a matter of when not if. Any sane and balanced analyst would have seen this coming to weaken Aoun’s FPM, HA and Syria.. When I read the article again yesterday I was surprised how accurate my analysis was (if I may say so myself)!.. although I did not expect the assassins to target a Christian figure of the 14th Feb bloc. But I guess the last 3 months saw Aoun’s popularity rise immensely, therefore targeting a Christian would re-shift the balance to the anti-Syrian Christian zaiims such as Jeajea (who is also a prime suspect or complicit in my opinion).

A brief summary of my article on 17-August-2006…
Hariri’s people are scared and they know that their popularity is in its worst state so they are asking the Lebanese people to “be loyal to the government” in every speech. If Israel does not assassinate someone in Lebanon now, it pretty much seems that Syria would have its allies back in office in Beirut while the Israel-US preference; the pro-US/Saudi group would really have move over.
Israel’s (only?) way out
The only thing that Israel can do today to save face and give a blow to Syria is to re-launch its assassination network in Lebanon. If Israel still has remaining assests in Lebanon of its assassination network, which was caught by the Lebanese security a couple of months ago (and confessed of committing tens of political assassinations), then there have to be someone in Tel Aviv now thinking of mobilizing them to try to kill a Sunni Lebanese politician (or maybe Junblat).

If Israel succeeds now in assassinating Saniora , little Hariri or Junblat it will reshuffle the cards again and might be able to steal the victory from Nasrallah and Bashar. This is like the magic solution that worked every time for Israel in Lebanon and its sectarian system for years.. “You kill a critic of Syria, you automatically create a thousand in Lebanon”. The bigger the name of the assassinated person the more anger you could trigger at Syria and the more you’ll push the Lebanese public towards obeying Israeli demands (through the US). It’s a win-win situation for Israel, the neo-cons, the anti-Syria warlords in Lebanon and the pro-US-Israel Arab regimes. With each anti-Syria politician killed, you get a free chorus of Lebanese sectarian warlords inciting the public against Syria. You also get the Saudi-regime backed media to spin it for you in Arabic (as no one watches alHurra anymore in the Arab world).

This had worked magnificently in the past and the Lebanese kept falling for the same trick time and again. I think that it’s the only formula that could work for the Israelis now, unless the Lebanese people have learned the lesson?!.. we’ll have to see.

Apparently, many did not learn the lesson!
If it wasn’t for this assassination, hundreds of thousands anti-Siniora demonstrators would have been now on the verge of bringing down the weak pro-US government in days. The assassination revived the pro-US warlords and they immediately jumped to TV screens inflaming people.
I have to say though, despite all the raw hate rhetoric on the 14 Feb controlled media (and other Saudi backed media) in the last 2 days, the number of Anti-Syria demonstrators was a lot less than expected (the wide lenses and other TV tricks were not able to amplify the number of demonstrators much.. despite the usual claim by Future TV of “more than a million demonstrators”). The 14 February warlords and zaiims have been granted a breathing space to gather their forces and re-launch their unrivaled demagogy.

November 23rd, 2006, 6:26 pm


Charles G. Coutinho, Ph. D. said:

Dear readers,

If we shift focus away from the specific issue of who killed Gemayel (something which is does not appear to be resolveable in the near future), and instead focus as per Professor Landis, on the larger, geopolitical, dare one say, grossmachtepolitik issues, one does one come up with?

First, that at present there is, and, has been for awhile now, a renewed power struggle going on, between the pro-Syrian & Iranian, and the pro-Franco-American-Saudi-Gulf Arab forces on the other, in the Lebanon. Id est, the Hezbollah and Aoun on the one side, and, the 14th March movement. In the last seven to eight months, since the momentum and moves therein (diplomatic, economic) to topple the Syrian regime, have obviously failed, the struggle has moved back to
Lebanon. The failure of the Israeli war against
Hezbollah, has given the pro-Syrian forces the wind at their backs, in terms of the enormous
political prestige derived by them, therein.

Now, perhaps the key thing to remember about this struggle, is that the stakes for the two sides are quite different. For least the Franco-American element, the struggle in Lebanon, is purely a ‘prestige’ policy, rien plus. There are for either Paris or Washington no real strategic or other hard, assets at risk in Lebanon, id est, no raw materials, military bases, economic links, et cetera. For the Bush regime in particular, as Professor Landis, has so ably pointed out, the
‘Cedar Revolution’ is the crowning, nay the only success of their policy of Democratization in the Near East. Snuff out, that success, and, in prestige terms, the effects will be enormous. However, it is probably the case, that a failure will not per se, have any more lasting results than the American failure in Lebanon in 1983-1984. They can pretty much walk-away from a debacle, without too much in the way of after effects.

Now, in the Syrian case, things are quite different. For them, today just as in 1983-1984, the struggle over Lebanon, is not a mere prestige policy, but, one almost of an existential variety. The events of 2005 did enormous damage to both the external and the internal prestige and cohesion of the Assad fils regime. As readers of this journal know quite well, for a considerable amount of time in 2005 and early 2006, especially after the defection of Khaddam, there was much talk of Syria entering a ‘regime
crisis’. That the American policy of overthrow might have a possibility of success, et cetera. The events of the summer of 2006, put paid to that talk to a good extent. What Syria and Persia want to do, is to reverse in some measure or other the defeat of 2005. That does not necessarily have to mean the re-introduction of Syrian troops into Lebanon per se. It does not even have to mean that Lahoud or Aoun, have to occupy the Presidency. What it does mean that any Lebanese Cabinet has to, de facto, if not de jure, recognize that Damascus, and its Persian allies are ‘the’ leading player / power in Lebanon. Pur et simple – pure and simple.

With the antagonists now described, what is the likely outcome, particulary now, with many minds in Washington occupied by the Iraq debacle? Ipso facto, making Lebanon for some, id est, James Baker et. al., a bargaining chip. Well, that is the great mystery, however I would not gainsay those who say, that this is a game where Syria and Persia hold most, or at any rate, the better cards in the long run. Unless, there is a seismic change in the Levant, such as another Hezbollah triggered war, which does not go as well as last time, or, the Syrian regime is overthrown, Damascus is in just a superior position vis-`a-vis Washington and its allies in the long run.
For more see future entries in my online journal.

November 23rd, 2006, 7:04 pm


why-discuss said:

Charles Coutinho:

Whether you want it or not, Iran is shaping up to be the leader in the moslem world and especially in the area. Their influence on Iraq is irrevocable and their influence in Lebanon growing. This is not to please the US whose main focus is to ensure oil flow and protection of Israel. It is not to please the saudi either who have seeing, since 9/11, their influence crumbling and with them all the sunnis in the area, including Egypt and Jordan. Israel will do all it can to prevent Iran to succeed and they have been influencing the US, though their neo-cons jewish allies that way since the iranian revolution by encouraging the US to side on Saddam Hussein during the “forgotten” Iran-Iraq war.
Now the US is trapped in their own game and they will have to choose between supporting and reassuring the israelis and loosing not only their credibility, but more american lives in Iraq. The realpolitik is to admit the the Iranian regime is not ready to collapse as the US has been hoping for. If the US wants to still keep some influence in countries in the area, aside of tiny Lebanon, they will have to compromise with the iranians and their arab intermediate, the syrian..
I am sure the Israelis are panicking and trying desperate acts to prevent this from happening. They have tried unsuccesfully to resort to war, now we are getting into a new COLD WAR in the region.

November 23rd, 2006, 7:51 pm


wha2eva said:

Ehsani2, you’re so cute.

My mother would also like to expand her interest and influence in Lebanon and the region. She found the Syrians and Lebanese most hospitable when she last came to visit, and would love to return one day to say hello and make new friends.

November 23rd, 2006, 8:43 pm


t_desco said:

BTW, who would have thought that Al-Jazeera International would turn out to be a movie channel in addition to being a news channel. Today they were showing “Clueless on Martyr’s Square“, featuring Mike Hanna in the lead role. He described the crowd as “peaceful” and “electrifying”. Indeed:

“From early in the morning, and for hours after, streams of people flowed into the square, chanting slogans cursing the president of Syria, Bashar al Assad, cursing the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and cursing the Christian leader, General Michel Aoun, who has allied his party with Hezbollah.

It was a time of anger, more than mourning — as Mr. Gemayel’s flag-draped coffin was taken in a procession from his family home in the village of Bikfaya to St. George’s Church in central Beirut 20 miles away.

“Nasrallah,” screamed a small cluster of young men, “the Sunni will dig your grave!” ”

November 23rd, 2006, 8:50 pm


Al-Syasy said:

Mr. why-discuss :

Read more about the Iran Contra, ull find out that the U.S an Israel sold arms to Iran (their Ally) against Saddam (British ally).

look at this link:

Dont be fooled with what the clawn Ahmadinajad says about Israel. The republicans now need their allys Syria and Iran to act in order to save them in the 2008 elections.

For Israel Olmert is not conserned about Iran, cause he knows what the real ability of Iran. He is concerned about his political situation and needs any victory to stay as the head of government. Iran may grant both the americans and the Israelis a small victory to solidify their local positions.

Hint : The U.S. needs a great Iran in the middle east.

November 24th, 2006, 1:40 am


Ehsani2 said:

By Andrew Higgins
Moukhtara, Lebanon — A FORMER WARLORD whose fighters got arms from the
Soviet Union and once took potshots at Donald Rumsfeld in Beirut, Walid
Jumblatt now is a Lebanese power broker and firm friend of Washington. He also
is worried for his life.
“They were better times during the Cold War,” says Mr. Jumblatt, a member of
Parliament and close ally of the anti-Syrian Lebanese minister who was
assassinated in Beirut Tuesday and buried yesterday. “The rules of the game
were a lot clearer back then.”
In the wake of the assassination and mass street protests, Mr. Jumblatt says
more violence is likely. Along with many other pro-American politicians here,
he blames Syria — with which he used to be allied — for the murder of
Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, a Maronite Christian gunned down in his car.
“We have to expect more murders and assassinations,” he says, arguing the
Syrian regime is stirring up violence to derail a United Nations investigation
into the February 2005 killing of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik
Hariri. “There is no mercy with them,” he says.
Mr. Jumblatt spends most of his time in a heavily guarded stone villa atop a
mountain. But yesterday he ventured to central Beirut to join equally anxious
allies at Saint-Georges Cathedral for Mr. Gemayel’s funeral. Snipers were on
nearby rooftops; a helicopter circled overhead. Mr. Jumblatt and other guests
each arrived with platoons of bodyguards.
After the funeral, Mr Jumblatt and other anti-Syrian politicians addressed a
huge crowd from behind bulletproof panels. Their speeches in Martyrs’ Square
turned a day of mourning into an anti-Syrian political rally.
Speaking earlier at his villa, Mr. Jumblatt said the assassination of Mr.
Gemayel vindicates a message he took to Washington on a visit last month: Only
pressure, not dialogue, can force Syria to moderate its behavior. The key, Mr.
Jumblatt says he told Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and Mr. Rumsfeld, the departing defense secretary, is the
rapid establishment of a U.N. tribunal to judge Syrian officials and others
implicated in Mr. Hariri’s murder.
“The main issue is the tribunal,” he says. “There is no other issue. . . .
This is why the Syrians are counterattacking in Lebanon. They want to topple
the government because they know that somewhere they are responsible for the
murder or murders.”
Mr. Jumblatt says the U.S. has been right to try to promote democracy in the
Middle East but wrong to snub the consequences — the rising clout of Islamist
groups such as the Palestinian organization Hamas, which Washington denounces
as a terrorist outfit. Without a Palestinian state alongside Israel, he says,
the region will be doomed to an “an endless crusade” pitting Muslims against
Israel and its supporters.
Democracy, he says, “is a risk worth taking . . . but the Arab world is
becoming more and more radicalized because of Palestine.”
Mr. Jumblatt, whose father and grandfather were assassinated, belongs to a
clutch of veteran Lebanese politicians who have alternately fought and
befriended each other for years and still command great influence, thanks to
the loyalty of their various communities. The 57-year-old politician represents
the Druze religious sect, an offshoot of Islam, whose members account for less
than 10% of Lebanon’s population.
These days, there are two basic, though highly unstable, camps in Lebanon:
forces that back and are backed by Washington, and those, such as the Shiite
Islamist movement Hezbollah, siding with Syria and Iran. The choosing of sides
has led to some odd alliances.
Gen. Michel Aoun, a Christian former army chief who fled Lebanon in 1990
after armed clashes with Syrian troops and returned to Beirut last year, now
stands with Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian groups. Mr. Jumblatt, who used to
attend military parades in Moscow and was close to pro-Soviet Syria, has joined
Syria’s foes and blames Russian diplomats at the U.N. for initially stalling
the Hariri tribunal.
“I don’t hide my past,” Mr. Jumblatt said in an interview in his ancestral
mountain compound southeast of Beirut. “Yes, I’ve changed. I was pro-Syrian.
OK. But I said, ‘Enough is enough.'” Lebanon’s politics, he says, “are a long,
complicated story.”
Mr. Jumblatt says he reminisced about the “good old times” with Mr. Rumsfeld
when they met late last month at the Pentagon. When Mr. Rumsfeld visited Beirut
in the early 1980s as an envoy for President Reagan, Mr. Jumblatt’s forces
shelled the airport. He was fighting at the time with a Christian militia run
by Amin Gemayel, father of the cabinet minister murdered this week.
Mr. Rumsfeld, says Mr. Jumblatt, recalled the incident: “He told me: ‘You
were firing at me’ . . . I told him: ‘I’m sorry. At that time I was a warlord.
Now I’m a democrat.'” Mr. Jumblatt says there was nothing personal, noting,
“Our artillery was not very accurate.” The Pentagon confirmed the meeting but
declined to say what was discussed.
The former warlord says he now shares Washington’s view that Iraq and the
rest of the Middle East needed shaking up with a dose of democracy. “There was
no way but for the Middle East to change,” he says. But he faults Washington
for ignoring the rise of Islamist groups as the only popular alternative to the
region’s dictatorial rulers. The U.S., he says, has to accept this and start
dealing with Hamas and other groups inspired by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,
which the U.S. calls terrorists.

November 24th, 2006, 3:43 am


Ehsani2 said:

The Wall Street journal claims the following:

The White House’s new strategy is becoming clearer.
Cheney is on his way to see King Abdullah. Bush is soon meeting with the King of Jordan. A new attempt is underway to form a Sunni broad alliance that would challenge the Iran/Syria Shia axis. In order to build such an alliance, however, the U.S. will have to change its ME policy in a major way. This will take the shape of a more assertive policy towards promoting peace between the Israel and the Palestinians.

November 24th, 2006, 4:49 am


Ehsani2 said:

I attached the wrong article above.

November 24th, 2006, 5:29 am


qunfuz said:

Mr Charles

Sorry if you think I’m being pedantic, but as you insist on calling Iran Persia, do you make a distiction between that country’s Persian population and its Azeris, Kurds, Lors, Qashqai, Baluchis and so on? Or perhaps you feel that Iran’s present borders should be altered to include territories at some stage or other controlled by the Persian empire? Pray tell.

November 24th, 2006, 7:05 am


Charles G. Coutinho, Ph. D. said:

A must read for Professor Landis readership is an article in the Beirut Daily Star today by Nada Bakri, in which includes an interview with the French Foreign Minister. From the interview, which indicates firm French support for the Siniora Cabinet, and the appearence of hundreds of thousands at Gemayel’s funeral, it does not appear that the 14th March coalition is ready to give up the ghost. Hopefully, predictions that Syria will have its way completely in the Lebanon will prove false. Here is the article:

November 24th, 2006, 7:17 am


SyriaComment » Archives » Post Gemayel Prospects said:

[…] The WSJ qutoes Jumblatt: Mr. Jumblatt said the assassination of Mr. Gemayel vindicates a message he took to Washington on a visit last month: Only pressure, not dialogue, can force Syria to moderate its behavior. The key, Mr. Jumblatt says he told Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mr. Rumsfeld, the departing defense secretary, is the rapid establishment of a U.N. tribunal to judge Syrian officials and others implicated in Mr. Hariri's murder.  "The main issue is the tribunal," he says. "There is no other issue. . . . This is why the Syrians are counterattacking in Lebanon. They want to topple the government because they know that somewhere they are responsible for the murder or murders." […]

November 24th, 2006, 8:07 am


Antoun said:

You said: “The targeted assassinations of Hariri, Gemayel, and many others by the Lebanese opposition demonstrates its efficacy and cold blooded precision.

The pro-American Lebanese have been unable to protect their leaders or kill their opponents. Not so the anti-American forces in Lebanon.”

Joshua Landis, I have been reading your blog for quite a long time now and enjoy your thought-provoking analyses.

Your analyses demonstrate a great understanding of the complexities of the Middle East, inside and out, and are based on a simply voyeuristic perspective void of any political bias.

It is for this reason that I find the above comment I have quoted absolutely extraordinary and baffling. Have you suddenly gone from the well-respected, objective expert to judge and jury?

How can you implicate the Opposition in both Gemayel’s and Hariri’s death? As you are well aware, the Opposition you speak of wasn’t in existence at the time of Hariri’s death, and what makes you throw unbased claims at Lebanon’s Opposition for Gemayel’s death? Even Haaretz commentators are refusing to point the finger at Syria, and you, an expert on Syria, have already smacked the hammer down!

This is the first time I’ve ever commented on this blog, but I felt it imperative to convey to you my deep disappointment in your shocking statement.

November 24th, 2006, 6:49 pm


why-discuss said:

Syria is a convenient fallguy for Gemayel’s death

By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth

11/24/06 “Information Clearing House” — —
Commentators and columnists are agreed. Pierre
Gemayel’s assassination must have been the handiwork
of Syria because his Christian Phalangists have been
long-time allies of Israel and because, as industry
minister, he was one of the leading figures in the
Lebanese government’s anti-Syria faction. President
Bush thinks so too. Case, apparently, settled.

Unlike my colleagues, I do not claim to know who
killed Gemayel. Maybe Syria was behind the shooting.
Maybe, in Lebanon’s notoriously intrigue-ridden and
fractious political system, someone with a grudge
against Gemayel — even from within his own party —
pulled the trigger. Or maybe, Israel once again flexed
the muscles of its long arm in Lebanon.

It seems, however, as if the last possibility cannot
be entertained in polite society. So let me offer a
few impolite thoughts.

As anyone who watches TV crimes series knows, when
there is insufficient physical evidence in a murder
investigation for a conviction, detectives examine the
motives of the parties who stood to benefit from the
crime. Better detectives also consider whether the
prime suspect — the person who looks at first sight
to be the guilt party — is not, in fact, being turned
into a fallguy by one of the other parties. The
murderer may be the person who benefits most clearly
from the crime, or the murderer may be the person who
benefits from the prime suspect being fingered for the

As most of our politicians and the media’s
commentators have deduced, suspicion falls
automatically on Syria because the Christian
Phalangists are one of Syria’s main enemies in
Lebanon. Partly as a result, they have opposed recent
attempts by Syria’s main ally in Lebanon, the Shiite
group Hizbullah, to win a greater share of political

They are also — and this seems to clinch it for most
observers — part of the majority in the pro-American
government of Fuad Siniora that supports a United
Nations tribunal to try the killers of Rafik Hariri,
an anti-Syria politician and leader of the Sunni
Muslim community, who was blown up by a car bomb more
than a year and a half ago.

After all six Shiite ministers walked out of the
Siniora cabinet two weeks ago, and now with Gemayel’s
assassination, the government is close to collapse,
and with it the tribunal that everyone expects to
implicate Syria in Hariri’s murder. If Syria can “bump
off” another two cabinet ministers and the government
loses its quorum, Syria will be off the hook — or so
runs the logic of Western observers.

But does this “evidence” make Syria the prime suspect
or the fallguy? How will Syria’s wider interests be
affected by the killing, and what about Israel’s
interests in Gemayel’s death — or rather, its
interests in Hizbullah or Syria being blamed for
Gemayel’s death?

In truth, Israel will benefit in numerous ways from
the tensions provoked by the assassination, as the
popular and angry rallies in Beirut against Syria and
Hizbullah are proving.

First, and most obviously, Hizbullah — as Syria’s
main political and military friend in Lebanon — has
been forced suddenly on to the back foot. Hizbullah
had been riding high after its triumph over the summer
of withstanding the Israeli assault on Lebanon and
routing an invasion force that tried to occupy the
country’s south.

Hizbullah’s popularity and credibility rose so sharply
that the leaders of the Shiite community had been
hoping to cash in on that success domestically by
demanding more power. That is one of the reasons why
the six Shiite ministers walked out of Siniora’s

Despite the way the Shiite parties’ political position
has been presented in the West, there is considerable
justification for their demands. The system of
political representation in Lebanon was rigged decades
ago by the former colonial power, France, to ensure
that power is shared between the Christian and Sunni
Muslim communities. The Shiite Muslims, the country’s
largest religious sect, have been kept on the margins
of the system ever since, effectively disenfranchised.

With their recent military victory, this was the
moment Hizbullah hoped to make a breakthrough and
force political concessions from the Sunnis and
Christians, concessions that indirectly would have
benefited Syria. With Gemayel’s death, the chances of
that now look slim indeed. Hizbullah, and by extension
Syria, are the losers; Israel, which wants Hizbullah
weakened, is the winner.

Second, the assassination has pushed Lebanon to the
brink of another civil war. With a political system
barely able to contain sectarian differences, and with
the various factions in no mood to compromise after
the spate of recent assassinations, there is a real
danger that fighting will return to Lebanon’s streets.

This will most certainly not be to the benefit of
Lebanon or any of its religious communities, who will
be dragged into another round of bloodletting.
Hizbullah’s underground cadres who took on the Israeli
war machine will doubtless have to come out of hiding
and will pay a price against other well-armed

The benefits for Syria are at best mixed. A possible
benefit is that a bloody civil war may increase the
pressure on the United States to talk to Syria, and
possibly to invite it to take a leading role again in
stabilising Lebanon, as it did during the last civil

But, given the continuing ascendancy of the hawks in
Washington, it may have the opposite effect,
encouraging the US to isolate Syria further.

Conversely, civil war may pose serious threats to
Syrian interests — and offer significant benefits to
Israel. If Hizbullah’s energies are seriously depleted
in a civil war, Israel may be in a much better
position to attack Lebanon again. Almost everyone in
Israel is agreed that the Israeli army is itching to
settle the score with Hizbullah in another round of
fighting. This way it may get the next war it wants on
much better terms; or Israel may be able to fight a
proxy war against Hizbullah by aiding the Shiite
group’s opponents.

Certainly one of the main goals of Israel’s bombing
campaign over the summer, when much of Lebanon’s
infrastructure was destroyed, appeared to be to
provoke such a civil war. It was widely reported at
the time that Israel’s generals hoped that the
devastation would provoke the Christian, Sunni and
Druze communities to rise up against Hizbullah.

Third, Syria is already the prime suspect in Hariri’s
murder and in the assasination of three other Lebanese
politicians and journalists, all seen as anti-Syrian,
over the past 21 months.

The US exploited Hariri’s death, and the widespread
protests that followed, to evict Syria from Lebanon.
Syria’s removal from the scene also paved the way,
whether intentionally or not, for Israel’s assault
this summer, which would have been far more dangerous
to the region had Syria still been in Lebanon.

Despite the looming threat of the UN tribunal into
Hariri’s death, from Syria’s point of view the
accusations have grown stale with time and threatened
to prove only what everyone in the West already
believed. With the walk-out by the Shiite ministers
from the Lebanese government, the investigations were
looking all but redundant in any case.

Gemayel’s assassination, however, has dramatically
revived interest in the question of who killed Hariri
and brings Syria firmly back into the spotlight. None
of this benefits Syria, but no doubt Israel will be
able to take some considerable pleasure in Damascus’s

Fourth, the Israeli government has been under
international and domestic pressure to engage with
Syria and negotiate a return of the Golan Heights, an
area of Syrian territory it has been occupying since

With it would be resolved the fraught question of the
Shebaa Farms, still occupied by Israel but which
Hizbullah and Syria claim as Lebanese territory that
should have been returned in Israel’s withdrawal from
Lebanon in 2000. The status of the Shebaa Farms has
been one of the main outstanding areas of dispute
between Israel and Hizbullah.

President Assad of Syria has been hinting openly that
he is ready to discuss Israel’s return of the Golan
Heights on better terms for Israel than it has ever
before been offered.

According to reports in the Israeli media, Assad is
prepared to demilitarise the Golan and turn it into a
national park that would be open to Israelis. He would
probably also not insist on a precise return to the
1967 border, which includes the northern shoreline of
the Sea of Galilee. Traditionally Israel’s leaders
balked at this idea, and provoked popular fears by
conjuring up the vision of Assad’s father, Hafez,
dipping his feet in the lake.

But if negotations on the Golan are desperately sought
by the young Assad, Israel shows no interest in
exploring the option. The Israeli prime minister, Ehud
Olmert, has repeatedly ruled out talking to Damascus.
That is for several reasons:

* Israel, as might be expected on past form, is not in
the mood for making territorial concessions;
* it does not want to end Syria’s pariah’s status and
isolation by making a peace deal with it;
* and it fears that such a deal might suggest that
negotiations with the Palestinians are feasible too.

Peace with Syria, in Israeli eyes, would inexorably
lead to pressure to make peace with the Palestinians.
That is most certainly not part of Israel’s agenda.

Gemayel’s death, and Syria being blamed for it, forces
Damascus back into the fold of the “Axis of Evil”, and
forestalls any threat of talks on the Golan.

Fifth, pressure has been growing in the US
Administration to start talking to Syria, if only to
try to recruit it to Washington’s “war on terror”. The
US could desperately do with local local help in
managing its occupation of Iraq. It is unclear whether
Bush is ready to make such an about-turn, but it
remains a possibility.

Key allies such as Britain’s Tony Blair are pushing
strongly for engagement with Syria, both to further
isolate Iran — the possible target of either a US or
Israeli strike against its presumed ambitions for
nuclear weapons — and to clear the path to
negotiations with the Palestinians.

Gemayel’s death, and Syria’s blame for it, strengthens
the case of the neoconservatives in Washington —
Israel’s allies in the Administration — whose star
had begun to wane. They can now argue convincingly
that Syria is unreformed and unreformable. Such an
outcome helps to avert the danger, from Israel’s point
of view, that White House doves might win the argument
for befriending Syria.

For all these reasons, we should be wary of assuming
that Syria is the party behind Gemayel’s death — or
the only regional actor meddling in Lebanon.

Jonathan Cook is a journalist and writer based in
Nazareth, Israel. His book “Blood and Religion: The
Unmasking of the Jewish State ” is published by Pluto
Press. His website is

November 25th, 2006, 10:42 pm


ryan matta byrnes said:

it is a shame that usa did not attack syria instead of iraq- it is a silly comment, but i am heartbroken and angered over what they do to and in lebanon- the christians and democrats of lebanon are threatened more and more and if sucked into civil war once again, lebanon will probably never come back

November 29th, 2006, 7:39 pm


why-discuss said:

Is Gemayel’s murder a palestinian vendetta from Sabra & Chatila massacre..?
Is it an Israeli killing eliminating a former and useless ally?

November 29th, 2006, 9:42 pm


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