Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Delamarre's Shadow

At first blush, Ambassadors of countries that threaten Syria’s hegemony in Lebanon feel rather anxious.

To be fair, the Syrians have no monopoly on assassinating ambassadors in Lebanon… But they do have the largest market share by far.

On September 4th, 1981, Louis Delamarre, the French Ambassador to Lebanon, was assassinated by Syria’s gunmen. The aim may have been to kidnap him, buy the gunmen who intercepted the car shot him when faced with his resistance.

Modus Operandi

Maybe the aim was to kill Delamarre all along, after kidnapping him and dumping his body in the “right” neighbourhood, to ensure a given effect.

On March 16th, 1977, the Syrians “operators” who shot Kamal Joumblat had actually intended to dump his body in a Christian village, to ensure “proper” retaliations were initiated. But Kamal Joumblat had foiled locked his car, and driven it in a ditch, to make sure his body would stay where he was slain. In any case, “they” managed to guarantee the “desired” effect, thanks to their many proxies among various confessions…

Not that they need to try hard to find willing murderersbut I digress.

Kamal Joumblat’s assassins were later “disposed” of, and those who disposed of them similarly dealt with. A similarly fate awaited Delamarre’s assassins.

Lesson 1: Crime pays, but only for upper echelons.

…Provided one uses it “judiciously”; in politics, the only thing “worse than a crime” is a blunder.

Louis Delamarre was assassinated during a time when Syria still had relatively solid Soviet backing, without antagonizing the Americans. It was able to leverage this support against France, who was trying to re-assert its influence in Lebanon.

In addition to growing opposition in Lebanon, Hafez El-Assad’s rule in Syria was also facing growing threat from the Muslim Brotherhood. The assassination served to demonstrate the Syrian dictator’s determination; those who did not get the message will be “convinced” during the crackdown on Hama, when between 20,000 and 40,000 innocents died in an operation directed at no more than 500 terrorists.

The conditions today are different. For all the Russian support, this is no Soviet backing. The Russians today may well be playing up the great power confrontation, but their main interests are far more “business” focused, centred on retooling their industry towards civilian applications. Rather than just “Great Game” politics, it is more likely that Putin is leveraging his support of Syria and Iran for a “better deal” from the United States and the Arabs.

Lesson 2: If you want crime to pay, make you’re in the right environment.

The environment being different, Ambassadors like Khoja should be logically safe from Syria. Logic, however, is not what is guiding this regime. More accurately, it is a different logic, one of confrontation and even partition.

Pace the rants of otherwise venerable commentator, this regime is not about to embrace change; it is in strict survival mode, since it knows very well that it cannot maintain control over Damascus without power over Lebanon and its juicy rackets.

But in its struggle for survival, this regime is still reading from the “old book” bequeathed by Hafez El-Assad. Yet the father’s book was not written for the son’s world, his time has passed, Lebanon may well be evolving, and Syria is changing, albeit at a glacial pace.

The “old book” was only “valid” in the 1990’s, when many kidnappings and assassinations were visited upon the Lebanese. It was becoming less valid soon after 9/11, when the West realized the long term price of its long term support for “unresponsive” dictators….

Luckily(?) for Lebanon, for all the talk of a “deal”, this regime appears unable to change, and thus unwilling to respond to Western advances other than mere “window dressing”. In the face of Western disappointment, it seems to stick to a strict policy of:

Waiting for the Democrats

… But those who stand still can only fall behind, so postponing the reckoning will only make it worse. Stil, in the meantime, they can cause a lot of damage…

So Khoja is right to be careful


Blacksmith Jade said...


On the Russia bit, Saudi Arabia is rumoured to have presented the Russians with an offer to buy up billions of dollars of Russian goods (from the military to the mundane) in return for a pacing of Russia's armament of Iran (and by proxy, Syria).

The offer was made in early August when Bandar (bin Sultan) met with Putin.

Mustapha said...

Excellent overview and reminder Jeha, Thanks..

ghassan karam said...

It is true that the son's policies are rotten but they are, lest we forget, nothing but a logical continuation of the fathers. Most of the senior positions in the Syrian Government up until about a year ago were held by the old guard. The father might have been more adept at exersising his terror without creating a major backlash but he was nonethless, a ruthless dictator. No dictatorship will be able to avoid the rage of the public forever. The time for settling the score in Syria is getting ever so closer and I believe that Mr. Bashar Al Assad knows it. All what he can do is continue the charade and buy time. That is why the possibility of a Syrian Israeli confrontation is not to be dismissed. If this war does take place then it will ofer the Syrian Ba'ath the opportunity to say that they have fought for the Golan. But make no mistake about it the Israelis will give up only a small portion of the Golan so that Syria can claim some victory. The rest of the Golan will go the way of Iskandaron. What is of greater importance to Lebanon is the very high likely hood that as soon as hostilities on the Israeli-Syrian front erupt then HA will make sure to commence hostilities on the Lebanese front .