Who Killed Hariri? The "Pushed Against the Wall" Thesis" as elaborated by Nasrallah and Asad
Who killed Hariri? This is the question that runs through Hassan Nasrallah's interview with al-Hayat. Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah, absolves Syria of responsibility, but he also tries to explain the context which led to Hariri's murder. He blames Walid Jumblatt's intransigent refusal to reconcile with the Syrians in December 2004 and join a Hariri government under Lahoud for leading to Hariri's death. It is in this context that Hariri's murder, according to Nasrallah, becomes understandable. In his explanation of the context, Nasrallah elaborates the "Syria Pushed to the Wall" thesis.
The complete Nasrallah interview with al-Hayat is now available in English at (Dar Al-Hayat). T_desco, who has been following the Lebanon wrangle closely, underlines the importance of this interview, because Nasrallah is quite frank about his reading of Syrian-Lebanese relations and their history.
Nasrallah claims that Bashar al-Asad does not want to return to Lebanon to control its affairs as it did in the past. "When I said in an interview that Syria did not want to return to Lebanon in the way that prevailed in the past, I meant it, and I know this," Nasrallah says. All the same Nasrallah is outspoken about his belief that Syria will always have a role in Lebanon. He argues that the present forces who oppose Syria are bad for Lebanese interests because they are determined to overturn the Syrian government, which will only provoke war between the two countries. More importantly, he claims they will lose. Here are his words:
Nasrallah claims his fight is with Junblat and others, less vocal, who want to overturn the Syrian regime with US support. He regrets that an understanding with Syria has been torpedoed. He says:
Today, I'm not working to re-introduce Syrian forces in Lebanon, or re-introducing Syrian intelligence here, or Syrian influence. By the way, whether or not we like it, or whether or not others like it, Syria has influence in Lebanon that no one can eliminate, due to what is said about common factors of history and geography, and a network of interests, and the intersection of family and social relations.
There's another goal that we're working for. We reject fighting Syria from Lebanon. We reject seeing Lebanese involved in any project to bring down the Syrian regime. This is dangerous for Syria and Lebanon. Due to Lebanese, national reasons, we believe that any war, in terms of politics, security or the media, not to speak of a military war that some of them want to drag Lebanon into, represents something that is against Lebanese national interests, regardless of the pan-Arab issue, or Israel, or the strategic situation in the region, because it is a losing war, based on all criteria and balances of power. What we're saying today is that in Lebanon, there are those who want to bring down the regime in Syria.
The final attempt, in Jeddah, between King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz and President Bashar al-Assad was an attempt to arrange things between Lebanon and Syria, in a way that puts Lebanon at ease, and puts Syria at ease as well, providing an opportunity for the investigation to be concluded. Before anyone knew what happened during this meeting, the attacks began from Lebanon, of course using
language that was less (harsh) than what the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, was subject to. I have the feeling that in Lebanon there are those who don't want any kind of understanding to be reached with Syria, under any consideration, and some of those are the most fearful about revealing the truth about the assassination of Prime Minister al-Hariri.
Nasrallah argues that Hizbullah did not benefit politically from Syria's presence in Lebanon as others parties did.
al Hayat: There are those who say that Hizbullah has a program to see Syrian influence return to Lebanon.Who is responsible for the deterioration of Lebanese-Syrian relations on the eve of Hariri's assassination on February 14, 2005? Nasrallah blames Junblatt and claims that Asad was trying to reconcile with Junblatt. Of course, this is a highly self-interested version because of the recent hostile exchange between Nassrallah and Junblatt, in which the Druze warlord stepped up his campaign against the Shiite warlord, claiming his party's allegiance to Iran and Syria overshadowed its loyalty to Lebanon.
Sayyed Nasrallah (Laughs): First of all, this is a charge that has no evidence behind it. Second, if we take Hizbullah, how has it benefited from the Syrian presence in Lebanon? I'm not talking about the last 30 years, since Hizbullah didn't exist prior to 1982. From 1982 until the present, when Syrian forces exited Lebanon, how has Hizbullah benefited from the Syrian presence in Lebanon? How has Junblatt benefited? Or the many, many others?
Let's talk about the period of Syria's presence in Lebanon. First of all, our presence in state administrations: we don't have any presence. On the contrary, the doors have been closed to us when it comes to the bureaucracy. As for the regions in which we are active, and in which we enjoy a moral and popular influence, deprivation and poverty have increased. We haven't benefited in terms of state positions, or projects, or development, or official political power, or in any domain where others have benefited. Therefore, we have no problem with whoever wants to judge this period; in fact we are comfortable about the topic because we were "outside" (the equation).
Of course, the Syrian presence in Lebanon concerned us in two respects. First, the principal factor involved securing domestic stability, due to the fragility of the situation. Second, this presence constituted a protective shield for the resistance against the Israeli occupation. Therefore, my position on Syria is subject to national and strategic considerations, and not personal calculations, or party-based calculations, or short-term interests. I didn't support Syria in Lebanon because I would receive positions in state administrations, or because it would secure projects for me, or give me a budget to work with, or ministers, or MPs in Parliament. That's how they work. On the contrary, the Syrian committee that used to manage Lebanese affairs up to 2000 would purposely ignore Hizbullah when it came to the Lebanese domestic (political) formula.
Sayyed Nasrallah: There are many such people, including Walid Jumblatt, who call for US troops to occupy Syria and eliminate the regime, like they did in Iraq. This is clear. He has called on the Syrian opposition to receive assistance from outside the country. Walid Jumblatt is distinguished by the fact that he says what he wants. There are others who do things and don't say anything. Don't ask me who these people are; when they say so, I'll tell you. In our opinion, this is dangerous for Lebanon. Today, our problem is that some of them want us to be part of their open war against Syria, and we reject this. The problem isn't that they don't want Syrian influence in Lebanon, while we do. This is not true.
Also, it must be remembered that at the time Nasrallah's attempted reconciliation between Asad and Jumblatt Syria had just extended Lahoud's presidency in contravention to the Lebanese constitution and was trying to impose its will on Hariri and Jumblatt. Hamadeh, Jumblatt's ally, had just been almost killed in an effort to intimidate Junblatt. Here are Nasrallah's words about the atmosphere during the week before Hariri's murder:
I realized that Walid Jumblatt had no serious intention of reconciling with the Syrians, even prior to PM Hariri's assassination, and that Walid Jumblatt had taken the decision to enter into a conflict with this regime. Even so, I believe that what he said at the Bristol was hurtful to me personally, as a mediator, and to Prime Minister al-Hariri, who was enthusiastic about the mediation, and to the Syrians themselves. It was clear, and I can attest to the fact that this was the climate prior to PM Hariri's assassination.Nasrallah even obliquely accuses Jumblatt’s refusal to reconcile with Asad for creating the atmosphere of confrontation with Syria which led to Hariri's death. According to Nasrallah, Rafik al-Hariri was ready to make up with the Syrians after the September 2004 Lahoud extension (which Hariri begrudgingly facilitated). Hariri told Nasrallah in December 2004 that he was prepared to form a government, but only if it included Walid Jumblatt. (Hamadeh was almost killed in October, well before this December effort to bring him back into the Syrian game.) Nasrallah explains:
President al-Assad demonstrated the required positive reaction to overcome the problem with Walid Jumblatt, but Walid Jumblatt insisted on clashing with the regime in Syria. After al-Hariri's assassination, things became more difficult. It was no longer possible to talk about mediation.
We even worked with our Syrian brethren to clarify that the circumstances, and the country's interest, after [Lahoud's] extension, required that Prime Minister al-Hariri form the new government. However, al-Hariri said to me, "I have a problem with forming a government without Walid Jumblatt. In light of the difficult climate between Jumblatt and the Syrians, it will be hard to form a Cabinet. I want you to help me regarding Jumblatt, and his relationship withJumblatt refused to reconcile, having already committed himself to UN Resolution 1559 and the Franco-American effort to yank Lebanon out of Syria's sphere of influence and into their own. According to Nasrallah, this is the key to the context of Hariri's assassination.
The logic of Nasrallah's history and explanation could also be used to explain why Syria killed Hariri, even though Nasrallah insists on pointing the finger variously at Israel, al-Qa'ida, or other obscure anti-Syrian and anti-"resistance" forces. Here is my reading: Syria believed that Lahoud is the key to its grip on Lebanon and its interests there so Bashar extended Lahoud's presidency, despite US and French admonitions not to. Hariri was willing to re-enter the circle of Syrian domination, despite his humiliation at the hands of Bashar over the Lahoud affaire, but only if Jumblatt would also reconcile with Syria and join his government. Jumblatt refused, going over to the dark side. Hariri begins to go over to the dark side with Junblatt. Syria takes him out. In Nasrallah's "resistance" logic, this is not really Syria's fault, but Jumblatt’s. Syria, which, in Nasrallah's view, still stands for "pan-Arab" interests, has been pushed to the wall by the West. Anyone who joins this pressure becomes a "traitor" and plays with fire. Thus, it is not Syria (even if it pulled the trigger) but the forces alligned against Syria who are the real assassins.
Bashar al-Asad has tried to bolster this line of reasoning. In an interview last October 7 with Jihad El Khazen, Asad claimed that France and the US had already made the decision to gin up a Security Council Resolution against Syria's presence in Lebanon as early as June 2004. Thus Lahoud's extension was a defensive move to fortify Syria's team in Lebanon and not an aggressive initiation of the tit for tat war that resulted in Hariri's murder. Here is how al-Khazen summarized his two-hour interview with Bashar al-Asad:
President al-Assad links the extension of President Emile Lahoud's mandate to the battle in which France and the US joined forces against Syria, each for its own reasons. The White House is pressuring to rein in the Syrian position regarding the US military presence in Iraq and the confrontation with Israel. France found itself in a big political dispute with the US and decided to offer Syria as a price for reducing the harshness of Washington's position against Paris.This is the "pushed to the wall" thesis that both Bashar and Nasrallah elaborate. The death of Hariri becomes "objectively" not Syria's fault because Syria was defending itself along with higher Arab interests against a plot by the Israeli oriented West and their minions in Lebanon. This is the logic that Asad is selling to Syrians. This explains why Asad accuses the Israelis of murdering Hariri and may actually believe it at some metaphysical level. More importantly, it is why so many Middle Easterners accept the logic. They believe it at some deeper psychological level, which helps them avow Asad's technical innocence.
*The agreement over Syria between President George Bush and President Jacques Chirac began in Normandy in June 2004, when the extension hadn't yet been raised. When the Syrians heard in roughly August that the two countries were preparing a Security Council Resolution against Damascus and its interests, extension became possible.
The Manichean struggle between Israel and the Arab World, in which both sides claim to be "existentially" threatened, has unraveled ordinary morality. Murder gets swept into a larger allegorical reading of light and darkness. As the cosmic logic of good and evil takes over, murder becomes "collateral damage" and we enter into the twilight zone of myth in which human actions lose their meaning in the face of contending Gods. The ends justify the means. Higher principles, such as Arabism/, Islam or democracy/ freedom trump smaller ones, such as murder.
Unfortunately, Arab leaders and their followers are not the only ones to do this.