The Christian Science Monitor reports that “a top Lebanese security chief and staunch opponent of the Syrian regime, was reported killed today in a powerful car bomb explosion” in a Christian area of Beirut. Now Lebanon described the hurried calls made in the aftermath to head off sectarian suspicion and reprisal.
Speaker Nabih Berri on Friday telephoned Internal Security Forces Director General Ashraf Rifi and offered his condolences for the death of ISF Information Branch chief Colonel Wissam al-Hassan, who was killed earlier in the day in a huge explosion in Beirut’s Ashrafieh.
Berri’s press office said the speaker also called Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri to offer his condolences.
The premier telephone Prime Minister Najib Miqati as well and discussed the latest developments with him.
According to the New York Times Hassan had just returned from Western Europe where he has hidden away his family fearing — correctly as it turned out — that he was in the crosshairs.
Suspicion quickly fell on groups aligned with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the embattled leader who has long been an influential political force in Lebanon and is close with Hezbollah, the militant Shiite organization that is a powerful faction in Lebanon’s own complex web of politics. The offices of two Lebanese political groups that oppose Mr. Assad, the Christian Phalange Party and the March 14 alliance, are in the same area as the blast site.
None of Berri’s apologies change the fact that Hariri and March 14 have had their eyes poked out. The obvious target for the next car bomb is Hariri himself. Some years ago Saad Hariri hosted a dinner at which I sat opposite him for the better part of two hours. He described the night his father, Rafik, had been blown up. Saad was in the Gulf at the time and described the “empty feeling” and sheer incredulity of realizing that his father, who had been a near invincible figure in his filial mind, lay in a smoking crater. Now heading back Hariri realized that it came down to him. He said nearly as I can remember, ‘I wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else. But flying home that day I realized there was no one else but me.’
The temptation to strike back, to blind the other side as well — just to survive — will be great. The leaders of the area already live in literal fortresses, with limited access doorways, sterile zones for literal blocks around, in conditions as paranoid as the man of mind can make them. But as Hassan’s death showed, none of this is nearly enough.
Little by little the Syrian war is creeping into Lebanon and Turkey. CNN says that “Many Lebanese believe that Syrian President al-Assad wants to promote instability in Lebanon and elsewhere to turn attention away from the civil war in Syria.” The Chicago Tribune quotes a top Arab diplomat as saying that “this crisis cannot remain within Syrian borders indefinitely. Either it will be addressed or it will increase … and be all-consuming”.
None of this will surprise the readers of this site nor in fact anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to the region. The consequences of leading from behind are that you’re not driving. Somebody else is. Who is driving?
Who is in charge of the clattering train?
The axles creak, and the couplings strain.
Ten minutes behind at the Junction. Yes!
And we’re twenty now to the bad–no less!
We must make it up on our flight to town.
Clatter and crash! That’s the last train down,
Flashing by with a steamy trail.
Pile on the fuel! We must not fail.
At every mile we a minute must gain!
Who is in charge of the clattering train?
Chris Lawrence at CNN says the rebels “are through waiting for substantial arms from western nations and Arab countries and are instead increasingly cutting their own deals to get weapons from extremists, including al Qaeda-like groups, a senior U.S. lawmaker told CNN.” And those that have been given by Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been reportedly winding up with Jihadi groups as well.
The situation now resembles a twisted variation of the 1930s Spanish Civil War. In Spain you had one faction sponsored by Hitler and another faction sponored by Stalin. Two sets of bad guys fighting for the future of the world at the height of a Great Depression. Today in Syria the choices are similarly unpalatable.
What could go wrong?