Civil war In Lebanon
By Robert Fisk in Beirut
Independent" -- - Civil war - the words on all
our lips yesterday. Pierre Gemayel's murder - in broad
daylight, in a Christian suburb of Beirut, his car blocked
mafia-style by another vehicle while his killer fired
through the driver's window into the head of Lebanon's
minister of industry - was a message for all of us who live
in this tragic land.
For days, we had been debating whether it was time for
another political murder to ratchet up the sectarian
tensions now that the democratically elected government of
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was about to fall. For days
now, the political language of Lebanon had been incendiary,
the threats and bullying of the political leaders ever more
fearsome. Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Shia Hizbollah leader,
had been calling Siniora's cabinet illegitimate. "The
government of Feltman," he was calling it - Jeffrey Feltman
is the US ambassador to Lebanon - while the Druze leader
Walid Jumblatt was claiming Iran was trying to take over.
Yesterday's assassination of Pierre Gemayel was a warning.
It might have been Jumblatt, who has told me many times that
he constantly awaits his own death, or it might have been
Siniora himself, the little economist and friend of the also
murdered former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
But no. Gemayel, son of ex-president Amin Gemayel and nephew
of the murdered president-elect, Bashir Gemayel - murder
tends to run in the family in Lebanon - was no charismatic
figure, just a hard-working unmarried Christian Maronite
minister whose unrewarding task had been to call émigré
Lebanese home to rebuild their country after Israel's bloody
The fires burnt in the streets of Christian east Beirut last
night and there were hundreds of young and occasionally
armed young men in the neighbourhood of Jdeideh, where
Gemayel was killed. "I want no revenge," his father Amin
pleaded in front of the hospital where his body lay. But
violence crackles through the air in a city where four
anti-Syrian politicians and journalists have been
assassinated in 21 months.
Gemayel, too, was a harsh critic of Syria, which was one
reason why Hariri's son Saad - leader of the March 14th
movement which controls parliament - blamed Damascus for his
Yet nothing happens by accident in Lebanon and political
detectives - as opposed to the police kind who most
assuredly will not find Gemayel's killers - have to look
beyond this country's frontiers to understand why ghosts may
soon climb out of the mass graves of the civil war.
Why did Gemayel die just hours after Syria announced the
restoration of diplomatic relations with Iraq after a
quarter of a century? Why has Nasrallah threatened street
demonstrations in Beirut to bring down the government when
Siniora's cabinet had just accepted the UN's tribunal to try
And why did America's UN ambassador, John Bolton, weep
crocodile tears for Lebanon's democracy - which he cared so
little about when Israel smashed into Lebanon this summer -
without mentioning Syria?
All this, of course, takes place as thousands of Western
troops pour into Lebanon to shore up the UN force in the
south of the country: UN troops who are supposed to protect
Israel (which they cannot do) and disarm Hizbollah (which
they will not do) and who are already being threatened by
No wonder the Europeans, whose armoured Nato forces now lie
trapped in the south of the country, are so fearful. No
wonder the Foreign Office has been telling Britons to stay
away. No wonder Tony Blair - as discredited in the Middle
East as he is in Britain - has been demanding an inquiry
into Gemayel's assassination, something he will not get.
Hypocrisy isn't the word for it, though recent history
provides all the clues. When Hizbollah captured two Israeli
soldiers and killed three on 12 July, Israel bombed Lebanon
for 34 days, slaughtered more than a thousand civilians and
caused billions of dollars of damage. It blamed Siniora's
government and Mr Bolton and his fellow American diplomats
did nothing to help the hapless prime minister. President
George Bush wanted Israel to destroy Hizbollah - which they
totally failed to do - as a warning to his latest Middle
East target, which just happens to be Hizbollah's principal
supporter, Iran. So much for Lebanese democracy. Even Mr
Blair, so anxious about Lebanon yesterday, saw no reason for
an immediate ceasefire.
In the aftermath of the war and the failure of all Israel's
war aims, Sayed Nasrallah began to boast that he had won a
"divine victory" and that Siniora's government had failed.
Hizbollah, of course, is also Syria's friend and no one was
surprised that the anti-Syrian government came under the
lash of the Shia prelate whose giant billboard posters
across Lebanon suggest he is suffering the cult of
Twelve days ago, all six Shia ministers left the cabinet,
leaving the largest religious sect in Lebanon unrepresented
in government. Last Monday, Siniora's government - Gemayel
included - approved the UN's plans for a tribunal to try
Hariri's killers, whom most Lebanese suspect were working
for the Syrians. But without the presence of the Shia, their
decision may have no legal status. Nasrallah began to call
for street demonstrations.
If he is the creature of Syria and Iran - and the Lebanese
are still debating this while Nasrallah denies it - there
could have been no better way of striking at Lebanon's
anti-Syrian government. "We can have no confidence in this
government because it obeys the orders of the US
administration," Nasrallah announced. "... the cabinet has
received an order from the US embassy assuring them that
American policy in the region has not changed. The Americans
told them: 'We are with you - don't give up!'"
Nasrallah chided those who claimed he was trying to create a
crisis between Shia and Sunni Muslims, although many fear
that their own religious divisions reflect, in faint and
phantom form, the blood-drenched sectarianism of Iraq.
And does America really support Siniora, whose cabinet may
now be in its death throes? At the UN, Mr Bolton loudly
supported it yesterday while desperately avoiding the use of
the word Syria. That almost certainly means Washington does
at last realise that it will need the help of Damascus - as
well as Tehran - to pull its tanks and troops out of the
slough of Iraq.
Beside America's catastrophe in Mesopotamia, the democracy
of Lebanon and Siniora's government doesn't amount to the
proverbial hill of beans - as Syria and Iran are well aware.
And Syria, yesterday, resumed diplomatic relations with the
American-supported government of Iraq.
Today, Lebanon celebrates - it would be difficult to find a
more lugubrious word on such an occasion - its 63rd year of
independence from France, whose troops again patrol southern
Lebanon. And Siniora's government still - just - exists.
With Gemayel gone, however, it would only need the loss of
two more cabinet ministers to destroy the legitimacy of his
Shia-less cabinet and close down Lebanese democracy.
The Lebanese may be too mature for another civil war. But
ministers might be well advised to avoid driving their
ministerial cars along the highways of Beirut for the next
few days lest someone blocks their way and fires through the
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited