Turmoil flowing out of Syria |
Khaleej Times - 02 May, 2012
Author: Josh Wood
Samir Geagea was bending down to pick a flower, he said, when he heard the sound of gunshots. From a hilltop a kilometre away, a sniper drew a bead on the political leader, a former warlord, sending a bullet past his head and another by his torso.
“It missed me by chance, or by providence,’’ said Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, one of the country’s main Christian parties, of the apparent attempt on his life April 4. “It depends on if you are a believer or not.’’
As the summer season begins in Beirut, with tourists and Lebanese expatriates flocking back to the country’s beaches, nightclubs and the outdoor cafes, there is a veneer of calm in many areas, a prevailing thought for some that tiny Lebanon is sheltered from the carnage next door in Syria.
But the quiet may be an illusion. Lebanon, which is only decades past a brutal civil war, remains sharply divided over Syria as increasingly heated rhetoric about the regime in Damascus dominates political discourse. The assassination attempt against Geagea, a critic of Hezbollah and Syria, and another soon after on Mustafa Jeha, a lesser-known figure with similar views, served as a reminder of ever-lurking instability. Now, there is a fear that the country could return to a period of political assassinations similar to the one it went through in the years following the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, when many politicians, journalists and activists associated with the anti-Syria March 14 political bloc were the target. “The return to political violence is very, very highly possible,’’ said Imad Salamey, a professor of political science at the Lebanese American University.
In the past, official investigations into assassination attempts have rarely uncovered the identities of the assassins. The low risk to the killers has at times helped make assassinations a favoured political tool. Despite his ambiguity on the subject, to many, such words point to Hezbollah, the powerful Shia organisation that leads the country’s March 8 bloc and has stayed by Damascus’ side throughout the turmoil next door.
Jeha, a 28-year-old Shia Muslim, recently founded a new political organisation called the Lebanese Sovereignty Movement and has been very critical of Hezbollah and Syria. Additionally, he began republishing books written by his late father – assassinated in 1992 – that attacked Hezbollah’s ally, Iran. Jeha alleged that his background and current activities made him a target.
Jeha charged that discord in Lebanon - such as that which could arise through assassinations - would aid the regime in Syria by diverting attention from the conflict there.
As divisions in Lebanon have grown deeper, March 14 politicians have become increasingly strident in the war of words with their pro-Syria rivals, the March 8 bloc, at times calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his cabinet and decrying what they say is continued support for the Syrian regime despite an official stance of neutrality on the conflict.
There are those who remain skeptical about whether Syria is stirring things up in Lebanon- even about whether the attempt on Geagea actually happened.