Wissam al-Hassan's Assassination Threatens Peace in Lebanon

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The assassination of Lebanese internal intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan has left the country in turmoil. Lebanese daily As-Safir analyzes the political dimensions of this assassination and argues that its perpetrators carried out this plot in an attempt to force the prime minister's government to resign. 

Tomorrow will not resemble yesterday. Wissam al-Hassan’s assassination will not be a passing news item. It will take Lebanon from a period of waiting for the worst, to living in the worst and gravest of times. His assassination, which closely mirrored that of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, has driven Lebanon into a political, security and sectarian unknown, devoid of any form of control or restraint.

The fragile security situation, which had been kept in check, might escape its reins. Moreover, lately, there have been many signs pointing to a dangerous increase in political divisions, which have grown day by day to the beat of internal conflicts and explosive Syrian crisis, as well as international issues. These issues are strongly linked to the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions and the decisions of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

As usual, the political exploitation of the crime led to fears that it forces us into the unknown, despite the evident differences in opinion between former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who accused Bashar al-Assad [of personally being behind the assassination], and Walid Jumblatt, who limited his attack to a generalized political accusation.

The security operative “who knew too much” cannot be easily forgotten. Hassan was not a mere employee with a rank, but was the weaver of webs, discoverer of worlds; an ultimate professional, a player who knew the effects of security and intelligence on Lebanese politics and maybe even regional politics. And because Lebanon has been divided and torn since Hariri’s assassination, the other political faction considered him a minion of the March 14 coalition.

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This controversial principal security figure, who never took a break from work, was anointed by one group and vilified by another. His accomplishments surpassed his failures; yet his death — in this fashion — served to prove his failure in protecting himself. This is after he succeeded, on numerous occasions, to save the country through his contributions in uncovering Israel’s spy rings and baited regional “messages.”

The "man who knew too much” left the Lebanese on a crossroads, the destination of which is unknown. Who will have the ability, tomorrow, to put an end to the wave of reactions and accusations that might be leveled against internal factions, as some Lebanese political leaders have hinted will happen? Who can blame the angry people if they sought to avenge and accuse? Who can shut the doors of hell that have flung open in numerous cities, towns, neighborhoods and streets, from Lebanon’s extreme north to its capital, from the Bekaa Valley to the mountains, all the way to its farthest point south?

No power in Lebanon is capable of controlling the deteriorating situation and preventing its repercussions. That is unless, of course, stability remained an international and regional demand, with Hezbollah its potential guarantor. The latter is the pre-eminent force on the ground, which can act and — at the same time — is convinced of the necessity to humble itself, as well as to protect and bolster the nation.

The government, entrenched behind its credo of maintaining stability, something that it considers its primary responsibility, now finds itself faced with a difficult question: How can stability be maintained now that criminal hands have succeeded in designing a surefire assassination plan that destroyed all semblance of stability and drowned Lebanon in a sea of worry?

Is there a government, a pro-government faction or an opposition that is capable of keeping the flimsy lines of dialogue open, and of weaving a new security net for the country? And are the national dialogue dates still valid?

Lebanon’s history of assassinations has established a political atmosphere built on mistrust and accusations, on daily verbal duels, threats and promises, which always precede actual acts of violence.

Lebanon’s security is no longer solely exposed in the border regions with Syria, like it was during the last few months, and as a result of which Lebanese citizens paid with their property and lives. Its internal security in fact grew weaker, as influential forces on the ground prided themselves with the excesses, kidnappings and roadblocks that isolated the country’s streets and marred some of its regions. Today, the whole of Lebanon’s security is completely exposed.

Lebanon is exposed, and the crime serves a purpose, just like all political crimes of the past eight years served a purpose.

Concerning its circumstances, this crime has maybe no equal, except for Prime Minister Hariri’s assassination.

Yes, Hariri was martyred the day he excised himself or was removed from power. His assassination served as impetus for Omar Karami to resign from the premiership, as voices in parliament calling for him to leave grew, and the snowball kept rolling, leveling in its path the Syrian “guardianship authority” and its Lebanese “agencies.”

All the booster shots by the March 8 forces and their regional sponsors failed to prevent Karami from resigning and the agencies from falling, their commanders subsequently languishing in prison for four years.

Political power thus was transferred from the Syrian camp to a “moderate” camp led by current Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who received Arab and international support superior to that which he enjoys today. The mission was specific: “Elections now,” as was constantly repeated by American Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman and French Ambassador Bernard Aime, throughout the weeks that preceded the parliamentary elections that changed Lebanon’s political course.

On the security and judicial fronts, a new team came to prominence, with Hassan being one of its main future protagonists. Rafiq Hariri’s guard and shadow for many years had become the guardian of the new political temple, with all the regional, international, political and intelligence ramifications that that entailed.

This chain of events leads to the following conclusion: The crime’s only political purpose is that revealed by the midnight communiqué issued by the March 14 coalition from its “Central House” headquarters. It personally accused Mikati — who prides himself on being Sunni, even more so than Karami — and demanded that he and his government resign.

Mikati is asked to resign immediately. That is what the March 14 forces desire. But maybe it has slipped their minds that Mikati — at this juncture in Syrian, regional and international history — is the guarantor of Lebanese stability, which must remain intact while priority is given to the Syrian crisis, with all its possible and endless ramifications. This is without losing sight of the fact that it was Mikati's strength, and not his opponents', that protected Hassan, Ashraf Rifi (General Director of Lebanese Internal Security forces) and Said Mirza (Lebanon’s Prosecutor General).

Yes, it is a crime that has led to street reactions unlike any other former assassination, except for that of Prime Minister Hariri.

Hariri’s assassination was followed by many other political crimes, none of which led to citizens taking to the streets in all of Lebanon to block roads and fire their weapons, or to young people flocking to Martyr’s Square. This only happened after Hassan’s assassination. That was one of the crime’s purposes, to incite strife: Sunni-Sunni, Alawite-Sunni, and Shia-Sunni; to further isolate Lebanon from Syria now that the latter has grown even weaker than it was in 2005. And so, it comes as no surprise that some, not only from the March 14 coalition, but also from within the cabinet, would demand that Lebanon breaks its ties with Syria, expel its ambassador, withdraw the Lebanese ambassador from Damascus and issue arrest warrants for Assad, Ali Mamlouk (Assad’s special advisor on security) and Butheina Shaaban (Assad’s political advisor), among others.

Yes, the crime serves a political purpose, with the main victim being the state. Hassan was not an officer whose allegiance lay with a certain sect or party, nor did he behave as such despite the reservations that many had toward him. The man and his team had exposed close to a hundred Israeli spy rings in Lebanon, making him a recordholder among all Lebanese or regional security officers who exacted an unprecedented price on Israel in its security wars with the Arabs.

Whoever knew Hassan and his constant companion Ashraf Rifi, recognizes that these two officers had purely nationalistic intentions, and did not abide by foreign or partisan dictates.

Yes, Hassan, Wissam Eid and Francois al-Hajj before him are martyrs that all Lebanese, and not only certain factions, can be proud of, with gratitude going to all past martyred leaders without exception.

The crime does serve a purpose: that the government resigns and the country be thrown into the vacuum of a caretaker cabinet, as a prelude to a postponement of parliamentary elections. Who benefits from that occurring? And who thinks that, in light of the current political reality, a transitional government can be formed, as some are deluded into thinking, to exact revenge against Mikati, or out of a lust for power?

The crime serves a purpose. If the intent behind Hassan’s assassination was to turn a new page in the security book, then the martyr was but part of an institution that remains standing and steadfast, with its general director, Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, upholding the “Information Branch’s” right to investigate and pursue the criminals. As he stated: “We will not surrender, we will not retreat, we will not leave the country exposed to those who want to tamper with its stability.”

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