Monday, February 14, 2005

Bombing in Beirut

Rafik Hariri was assassinated a short while ago. Hariri, a very popular former Prime Minister, recently joined the clamor of voices (including the US and the UN) demanding Syria get out of Lebanon. Most recently in the past few days he has been extremely outspoken, using harsh language, against the Syrians.

I found no reports about who did it, but it seems all to obvious that it was the Syrians. It is very much their style, and in their interest.

The obvious worry now is that Lebanon will revert to civil war, which of course is what the Syrians want. Perhaps I am a bit less worried than most, though I am unsure why.

A bit of background: Lebanon had a 15 year civil war lasting from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. Basically is was the Christians versus the Moslems. The Palestinians fought with the Moslems. Israel was involved briefly to help the Christians, and the US was in even more briefly to keep the peace. The Syrians came in initially to help the Christian maintain power, and then switched to helping the Moslems win. Israel pulled out after about one summer when the man they were working with, Bashir Gemayel, then the elected President, was assassinated, and the Christians (most likely with the encouragement of Syria, and officially within the context of an "occupation" by Israel) massacred many Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatilla. The US pulled out after a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Marine barracks, and it looked like the country did not want US help in stabilizing. Syria never left.

Syria always considered Lebanon as part of "greater Syria", and is the major power player in the region. Nothing happens there politically unless Syria approves. Syria continues to harbor and train the various terrorist groups that operate South Lebanon against Israel.

Syria has been under increasing pressure to get out of Lebanon, and the myth (most of us think) that they have been spreading for the past 10 years is that if Syria were to leave Lebanon, the civil war would start. Syria tells Lebanon that it is keeping the peace, and thus many Lebanese (who have no great love for Syria) feel they need to keep Syria there.

The fear is that 1) Syria is right, or 2) Syria might arrange for this to be right or 3) it might be right because of what Syria has been saying. Alternatively Lebanon might be past this.

The civil war did not end because there was a victor, nor did it end because there was a resolution to the problems. It seems it ended because there was not enough internal energy to keep the flames of war up on either side. So there is no reason to assert with confidence that they will not flare up again. It has been only 13 or so years since the war ended. Most of the population still remembers the 300,000 Lebanese dead.

This may be Syria's way of testing those waters and upping the ante.

There is one lesson that everyone learned from the Lebanon civil war. That is: do not get involved in the Lebanon civil war. The Syrians were the real victor and the Lebanese were the clear looser. Israel was the other looser, as was the US, and most importantly was increased Middle East stability.

The Sunni in Lebanon cannot really let this pass without doing anything. This was perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to the country. The only upshot though is that there cannot really be two sides to this civil war. There are too few people left in the country who really support the Syrians. Perhaps someone will take it upon themselves to start killing some of the 14,000 Syrian soldiers in Lebanon.

Al-Jezeera (according to MSNBC) is reporting some new unheard of Islamic fundamentalist group claimed credit for this. Some group called "victory and Jihad in greater Damascus" has claimed credit and Syria has denounced this as "terrorism". (Everyone is still believing it was Syria. It is common to blame things you did, but can't take credit for, on fictitious Islamic fundamentalist groups.) The word on the street is of course (surprise, surprise) that it is the Israelis who did this, despite the fact that Israel has nothing to gain and even a little to loose from this.

The people in Lebanon are worried.

UPDATE: I just realized that Saturday is Ashoora. Ashoora is a holiday where the death of Ali in the battle of Karbala is mourned. It tends to be a day where Muslims get a bit worked up. I hope that it is not the day where things will explode.

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