November 24, 2006 | FrontPage Magazine

Crushing a Flower of the Cedar Revolution

The assassination of Lebanese Christian politician Pierre Gemayel this Tuesday has revealed that the Tehran-Damascus axis remains busy with terror activities across the Fertile Crescent.

When U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 passed in 2004, reaffirming Lebanon's political independence and calling for the withdrawal of the Syrian occupation army and the disarming of Hezbollah, Syria's Ba'athist regime pledged heavy retribution against those Lebanese who would dare join the international campaign for freedom triggered by the U.S.-led War on Terror.

Damascus has kept its promise. In the fall of 2004, a former minister from the Druze community, Marwan Hamade, was targeted with a car bomb. While Hamade survived, Rafiq Hariri, the former Sunni Prime Minister of Lebanon, was not so fortunate. On February 14, 2005, he was killed in an explosion orchestrated by highly trained terrorists.

Dozens of Lebanese civilians were also killed and maimed in the blast. This prompted thousands, mostly students, to take to the streets and demand the withdrawal of Syrian forces and the end of the occupation of their country. In response, Syria ordered the Lebanese Army, via the pro-Syrian government headed by Prime Minister Omar Karami, to send in troops to shut down the “Lebanese intifada.”

The Lebanese people refused to be intimidated. As the world watched on television, the youth of Lebanon, soon joined by the masses of the country, painted the colors of freedom on their faces and marched through the lines of Lebanese soldiers. Women first, boys behind, and the elderly following, they crossed into downtown Beirut in an inspiring illustration of national defiance. One and a half million people marched through the capital and the suburbs in what came to be known as the “Cedar Revolution.”

Instead of authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism, the Lebanese longed for freedom and peace. Given political freedom, the Lebanese — Sunnis, Druze and Christians, along with a growing number of Shiite moderates — emerged as majorities in the country's government, including in municipalities, student unions, and parliament.

It was a powerful slap in the faces of Syria's Bashar Assad and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both disliked the emerging democratic forces. Hence, cooperation solidified between Tehran and Damascus. In partnership with their common client, Hezbollah, the two regimes launched a campaign to kill the idea of Middle Eastern freedom in its infancy.

In the summer of 2005, progressive Lebanese leaders George Hawi and Samir Qassir were assassinated. Journalist May Chidiac was maimed by a bomb. In December the bright, young and promising Jubran Tueni, a member of the Lebanese Parliament and publisher of the daily an Nahar, was killed. Hezbollah lured others, such as General Michel Aoun, into cooperation. During the winter and spring of 2005, Nabih Berri, the pro-Syrian speaker of the Parliament, played the role of Don Corleone, inviting the senior political leaders of the country to what the mafia calls a “sit down.” After weeks of sterile talks, the “loaded dialogue” failed.

But the effects of the intimidation campaign were palpable. The government of Fouad Siniora hesitated to call for U.N. implementation of resolution 1559. Non-governmental organizations who appealed for action on this front were informed that the fear was too great. “Hezbollah is up to terrible things,” Lebanese-Americans told the bipartisan committees in the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. Lebanese memos to the United Nations stated: “The country has been taken hostage.”

This prophecy was soon realized when Hezbollah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah, with Machiavellian success, dragged Lebanon and Israel into a surprise war this past July. For Nasrallah, the war was an opportunity, a chance to reassert himself as a “legitimate” player in Beirut and destroy the gains of the people's revolution. For Iran and Syria, it was a chance to undermine the newly independent Lebanese government. For the majority of Lebanese, it was a nightmare. They did not want a war, let alone a regional one.

By the end of October 2006, Hezbollah and its allies felt confident enough to launch a new bid for power. Nasrallah rallied his troops in the suburbs of Beirut, urging them to arm for the coming urban jihad. Thousands of militiamen, as well as the Syrian Mukhabarat intelligence service and possibly suicide bombers, were tasked to invade the capital.

Mukhabarat' operatives were readied to cut off water and electricity and to surround Lebanese police stations. Hezbollah also demanded that Prime Minister Siniora's government recant its decision to accept the UN Tribunal investigation of Rafik Hariri'z assassination. It was expected that the ensuing indictment would touch high-ranking officials in the Syrian regime, Hezbollah's patron. Also discernible was the influence of Iran. If the Syrian regime were to be weakened, so too would be the Iran-Syria axis, leaving the mullahs alone in the Middle East. The Lebanese democrats had to go.

If Iran and Syria had any doubts about their strategy of destabilization, the midterm elections in the United States dispelled them. On November 7, the opposition party in the United States grabbed both houses of Congress. Although an unremarkable feature of American and Western politics, this shift in power was read by Iranian and Syrian elites as a collapse of American determination to defend democracies in the region. Ayatollah Khamenei declared: “The defeat of Bush in Congress is a victory for us.” He was echoed in Lebanon by Hassan Nasrallah: “America is being defeated and is leaving the region. Those who worked with the US will pay the price.”

Further reinforcing suspicions in Tehran and Damascus, the Iraq Study Group, headed by presidential advisor James Baker, is slated to recommend next month that Washington backtrack from its policy of promoting democracy in order to cut deals with…Iran and Syria.

On the basis of these developments, Iran and Syria concluded that the time was ripe to strike a punishing blow against democratic forces. But Lebanese leaders moved first. They emphasized that they would go to the UN and lead the masses into the streets against foreign interference in Lebanese politics. Calculating the numbers of the opposition, the “axis” commanders in Lebanon shifted tactics. Instead of sending in troops, a decision was made to send in the death squad to “mollify” the resistance.

The warning signs came last week. The ministers of Hezbollah and the Shiite Amal Party resigned from the Lebanese council of ministers to shake the “legitimacy” of the cabinet. They failed. The Lebanese Constitution is clear: You need more than one third of the members to collapse a cabinet. Therefore, the “axis” needed to eliminate three members, one after the other. Thus the decision was made to kill the youngest, brightest and most vocal Lebanese minister, a true symbol of Lebanon's civic revolution: Pierre Gemayel.

Unlike the warlords and senior politicians, the 34-year-old MP acted like a head of a happy family, with a wife and children. He drove his own car in the middle of the most dangerous urban areas, and socialized with neighbors, partisans and friends. He was living the life he was struggling to defend: one of peace, freedom and democracy. It was abruptly ended on Tuesday. Two vehicles blocked Pierre Gemayel's car, while several assassins shot the young leader “execution style.”

Gemayel is dead, but, as his younger brother Sami told his friends, “The march continues.” On these shores, the question arises: What should be done?

The answer is clear. The United States and the new Congress must be implacable in resisting the onslaught of terror and fascism in the Middle East. When cynical politicians, interest groups and apologist academics call for the appeasement of Iran and Syria, resist them. When a population is endangered and its leadership is being eliminated, assist them. Will the new Washington rise to the occasion?


Hezbollah Lebanon