Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Civil war in Lebanon


"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.

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 bombardment.

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 Hariri's assassins?

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 al-Qa'ida.

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.

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!'"

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."

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