First the Syrians, then the Iranians, then the Libyans were the expedient culprits

Robert Fisk – The Independent July 1, 2011

At first, it was the horrible Syrians. Since the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri wanted the remainder of Syria’s military rabble – around 20,000 men, although the news agencies claimed 44,000 – out of Lebanon, it must have been the Syrians who did it. Syria’s “friends” in Lebanon – security agents who should have been able to keep Hariri alive if they had wanted to – were arrested.

Four of them were locked up in the country’s notorious Roumieh prison for years before the UN grovelled and said that, well, there weren’t really enough grounds to hold them and that they were, hrmpph, hrmpph, innocent. And their names do not appear on the UN indictments.

In other words, it must have been the Iranians or – better still – Hezbollah. As the years went by, the Syrians fell out of the blame-hole. Seymour Hersh, one of the only serious journalists left in the United States, was by chance interviewing the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when he heard the news of Hariri’s killing and recorded the sense of genuine shock when the great man heard of the Hariri murder. Well, you can fake these things. But…

Then, within a couple of years, Der Spiegel told us it was Hezbollah, Iran and Syria’s favourite Lebanese militia, enemy of Israel and war-horse of any peace process in the Middle East, who killed the largest prime minister in Lebanese politics. No one in Lebanon really believed this. Almost everyone outside Lebanon did. That Hezbollah, with their canny intelligence services would mess themselves up with a Syrian kill-Hariri project was unbelievable.

Memories. When Pan Am crashed on Lockerbie, we were all told it was the Iranians, supported by the Syrians, but then the press were encouraged to blame the Libyans and so we had the saga of a certain Mr Megrahi who may – or may not – tell us more when the Libyan rebels and the SAS ring his door bell in a year or two’s time.

What had changed, of course, was that we needed the Syrian army to defend Saudi Arabia from Iraq after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. So the Syrians became the good guys and the Libyans became the bad guys and everything went fine until Gaddafi kissed Blair and Blair kissed Gaddafi and Gaddafi decided to kill all his Senoussi enemies. Well, at least we can still blame Gaddafi for Lockerbie.

But did Hezbollah kill Hariri? I was only 400 metres from the bomb explosion on 14 February 2005, lucky to be alive, unlucky enough to see Hariri burning on the roadside. The Syrian Baath Party security apparatus murdered him, I think, without any reference to President Assad, just as I think they killed Pierre Gemayel Junior and the journalist-historian Samir Kassir. Well, no murder indictment in Lebanon has ever seen the light of day in court.

So it’s a good time to bang up the latest culprits in Lebanon – if you’re an American government agency – when the Israelis are frightened of another Israeli-Hezbollah war. A good time, too, to stir up another sectarian dish between the Sunnis of Hariri and the Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon when Assad’s Shia Alawis are fighting the majority Sunnis of Syria. As for those guys locked up for so many years on the say-so of the UN: released through lack of evidence. Hmmm, as I always say to friends here when they ask me of these matters. The problem in Lebanon is that everyone is innocent. And everyone is guilty.

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Correspondent for the Independent, Robert Fisk is resident in the Middle East and comments on events unfolding there

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