There seems to be excessive paranoia in some circles, incidentally a popular trend amongst some academics, about Syrian responsibility for the assassination of Pierre Gemayel. Here I will debunk the major arguments put forth by these people.
Assumptions and conspiracy theories: Syria, the international tribunal, and the assassinations
The argument is made that Syria is fighting the international tribunal in the assassination of Hariri tooth and nail, and that this would give credence to the argument that it is behind the assassination of Gemayel. This argument is faulty for a number of reasons.
1) It assumes that Syria is responsible for the assassination of Hariri, of which there is no proof, not even evidence. This is not to say that Syria is not behind that assassination, but that given the absence (yes, you heard me, Mehlis is a joke, as is Brammertz) of any evidence, it would not be right to accuse any side of this. Right? Or so the popular argument goes whenever the finger clearly points not at Syria but in other directions. The issue is not about who wanted Hariri dead but who had a motive in assassinating Hariri (obviously the assassins had a motive, they were not just a bunch of homicidal maniacs planting bombs in random places and targeting random people). Such an approach would actually shift the blame away from Syria, onto certain other groups and sides. Granted that this does not qualify as evidence, it is however enough to arrive to a list of possible suspects, an act that has not been carried out in the investigation. The “investigators” are not actually looking for who did it; they actually named their suspect from the first moment; they are are only working on collecting (or creating where none available, I suppose) evidence to try the “suspects”. This means that the court/tribunal itself is politically motivated, which gives further credence to the argument that this is perfectly in tune with the motives of the assassins.
2) Assuming that Syria is indeed guilty of the crime as charged, it assumes that Syria would be willing to take non-diplomatic measures to halt the tribunal. It tries to extrapolate and explain current behaviour based on past behaviour. If such an approach is to be adopted, then not only Syria, but also many Lebanese (and non-Lebanese Arab and non-Arab) figures would be primary suspects in the assassination of Hariri and the string of assassinations that have followed it.
3) It fails to take into consideration the impact that not only the latest assassination, but also previous assassinations, have had on the issue of the international tribunal.
4) It assumes that the Assad regime would actually place its survival at the mercy of public opinion in Lebanon. Here the argument is that by assassinating anti-Syrian figures Syria would be betting on the idea that people would adopt conspiracy theories and clear Syria of all blame. The reality of the situation has been much different, and fingers have continously pointed at Syria, even dismissing out of hand other possibilities.
5) It assumes that all assassinations are interrelated and need to be analyzed en masse, whereas each assassination should be analyzed and investigated separately until such links are discovered in the course of the investigation.
6) In the latest episode, it fails to take into account the fact that the assassination pushed forward the tribunal instead of halting it.
Arguments and counter-arguments: Syria, Lebanon, and the quest for “return”
The most popular argument seems to be that Syria is attempting, through its assassinations, to return to Lebanon. This is a problematic argument in many respects. I raise a number of counter-arguments, their answers to these (where available), and my response to these counter-counter-arguments.
1) If Syria were determined to return to Lebanon, why did it leave in the first place? They answer: it could not have possibly stayed because of the international pressure. I respond: but this fails to explain what exactly has changed now. Is the international community more willing to accept Syrian return to Lebanon, than it was willing to accept Syrian presence in Lebanon more than a year ago? The simple answer is: no.
2) How are the assassinations aiding Syrian return to Lebanon? They answer: by bringing about instability and aiming at causing civil strife, in the event of which Syria would enter Lebanon on the pretext of keeping the peace. I respond: This is an obsolete argument. First, you assume that Syria is the final decision-maker on the issue of civil strife in Lebanon. If Syria aimed to do this, and there is widespread awareness of such an intention in the ranks of the so-called anti-Syrian “March 14”, what follows is that “March 14” would take all the necessary steps to prevent such strife. And what does Future Movement (FM) MP Walid Eido say?? Well those of you who hail The New York Times as the ultimate source of news better read his latest statement: “We will sell our blood to buy weapons and confront them [referring to the opposition]. We will never let them control the country.” I can tell this encourages calm and peace in the country, and gives credence to the FM argument that Syria wants to sow civil strife. Using this logic, FM is working for Syrian interests (that wouldn’t be too surprising, they have done it before, they have also been working for Saudi and U.S interests, heck they work for ALL interests EXCEPT the people’s interests).
3) If the outright aim of these assassinations is bringing about civil strife, how is the assassination of Gemayel and others before him (Qassir, Hawi, Tueni, etc.) conducive of such an objective? Surely such a grand project aiming at sectarian strife would necessitate the assassination of more prominent sectarian figures? Say, Jumblatt or Aoun or Nasrallah? I have not received any answers to these questions from proponents of the paranoia trend.
4) If the intention is to sow civil strife, would it not make sense that the party aiming at it would also assassinate “pro-Syrian” figures? Not only does the non-assassination of “pro-Syrian” figures facilitate the accusation of Syrian responsibility for all the mess in Lebanon, it fails to drive the anti-Syrians and pro-Syrians into a serious clash based on the trading of accusations of targeted assassinations on both sides. In fact it pacifies the “pro-Syrian” figures rather than mobilizing them. Assuming that Syria is behind these assassinations, the smartest thing for Syria to do would be to also “off” some “pro-Syrian” figures (now I’m really giving the assassins some ideas… I hope they have better thigns to do than reading this), as this would internalize the issue. I have not received any answers to these questions and points either.
The big game: Syria, Iran, Iraq, and… Lebanon
Arguments addressing the wider picture, namely future Syrian involvement in the pacification of Iraq, incorporate the assertion that Syria would be stirring troubles in Lebanon as part of its general strategy in the region. The claimed objective is the widening of influence in the region. Not only does this necessitate Syrian military involvement in Iraq (and we can see this strategy nearing fruition), it also allegedly necessitates the renewal of Syrian involvement in (i.e. occupation of) Lebanon. This would be done, it is argued, by the above-mentioned mechanism, namely stirring civil strife and entering Lebanon on the pretext of pacifying it. This argument is a shaky one for a number of reasons:
1) Is Syria able to exert military control over two countries on its borders without risking internal fracturing? If it is able to take on such a mission and accomplish it, why did it withdraw from Lebanon, only to seek to return shortly afterwards?
2) If the Ba’ath regime is capable of doing what USA has failed to do militarily in Iraq, and at the same time of regaining control over Lebanon and preserving itself, this does not give one the image of a militarily weak and diplomatically stupid country. Why are the Golan Heights still occupied (for the record, I keep hearing the heights were occupied in 1973, this is untrue, false information my friends, the heights were occupied in 1967) and why is the Assad regime making all these stupid mistakes that facilitated its exit from Lebanon and which are putting the final touches on its demise??
3) If Syria’s help is being sought to pacify Iraq, what does Syria get in return? It can’t be that it gets nothing in return. It got Lebanon in return for supporting the U.S in the first Gulf War. What would it get now? If it would get Lebanon, would this not mean that USA is paving the way for this? If this theory is true, USA is as guilty of the crimes (assuming the assassinations are for that purpose) as Syria. So who are they kidding with the international tribunal? And if they are only kidding about the international tribunal, what happens to the argument that Syria is trying to fight it tooth and nail?
Make up your minds and stick to one argument already!