One clear message was sent by today’s assassination of Lebanon's Brigadier General François Al Hajj: If you oppose Syria and reach a level of power where you can make an impact, you’re living on borrowed time.
As of this writing, there is no concrete proof that Syria was behind the assassination and there probably will be no proof. In fact, Syria’s Foreign Minister publicly condemned the attack. But ever since Marwan Hamedeh stood up in Lebanon’s Parliament and admonished Syria and its allies for manipulating presidential politics in that little nation, Syria’s opponents have been blown up or gunned down one by one.
Hamedeh was a rare case of a politician who survived the assassination attempt when his car was bomber October 1, 2004. His bombing was followed by the massive blast that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on Valentine’s Day 2005. Following that anti-Syrian journalists: Jubraun Tweini and May Chidiac were bombed. Parliamentarians from the anti-Syrian majority, like Pierre Gemayel and Aintone Ghanem, were killed off in such methodical succession; the government feared their majority would be turned into a minority. (They still hold sway by three seats.) Many politicians left Lebanon. Others began living behind walls of security.
On Tuesday, Lebanon appeared ready to climb out of its crisis over the presidential election. The majority and the minority found a candidate they could both live with in the Army Chief Michele Suleiman. Suleiman would have to leave the top Army post. Al Hajj was widely regarded as first in line to succeed him. However, there was one sharp contrast between Suleiman and Al Hajj: Suleiman was friendly to Syria. Although Al Hajj had moderated over the years, he had a history of opposing Syrian influence in Lebanon.
Syria has enjoyed allies in the House Speaker’s Chair, the presidency and the Chief of the Army. Of the three, the Army chief could have the most direct impact on any meddling by Syria. He could look the other way or crack down when weapons and people came across the border. When Al Hajj seemed like he would occupy the top spot, even before the position was vacated, he was blown up and killed.
It’s not clear how the assassination will affect Lebanon’s ability to pick a president. It injects more fear and chaos to the process but it does not change the number of Parliamentarians voting. Prior to the assassination, they looked like they were in agreement that General Suleiman would fill the presidential vacuum. So, the politicians, particularly those in the majority, will stay in hiding and travel only when necessary until it is time to vote. People on the Lebanese street will continue to stockpile arms in their houses fearing another meltdown to violence.
I spoke with one of my political contacts and Lebanon today and she said she was “sad, just sad that outsiders will continue to mess with this little country and Lebanon will never stand for Lebanon.”
Mike Tobin is a foreign correspondent for FOX News Channel based in Jerusalem. You can read his bio here.
Michael Tobin joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Chicago-based correspondent.