The murder of senior Lebanese Sunni political figure, Mohamad Shatah, on Friday in a massive bomb blast that hit his motorcade as it drove through downtown Beirut was aimed at implicating the Shia Hezbollah and closely allied Syrian and Iranian governments.
Syria’s government of President Bashar al-Assad, along with Hezbollah and Iran, swiftly condemned the assassination of Shatah, who was formerly Lebanon’s finance minister between 2008 and 2011.
But the condemnations didn’t stop anti-Syria politicians within Lebanon and various Western media outlets from pointing the finger.
“Anti-Assad ex-minister killed in Beirut bomb,” was the headline carried by Reuters and Britain’s Daily Telegraph, among others.
This contrived innuendo betrays who the real perpetrators are.
Mohamad Shatah, a senior political adviser to Lebanese opposition leader Saad Hariri, was indeed a strident critic of Hezbollah and Syria’s Assad, accusing them of fuelling bloodshed in Syria and also sectarian tensions inside Lebanon. His political views were consistent with the narrative of the pro-Zionist Western media, as well as Saudi Arabia.
Shatah could therefore be considered an ally of the West, Saudi Arabia and the Zionist Israeli regime. But that very profile may have been what made him a prime target, not for Hezbollah or Syria, but for his so-called allies.
The day before his killing, Shatah had reiterated criticism of Hezbollah, claiming that the group was using Syria to consolidate its military strength in Lebanon.
Within minutes of Shatah’s murder, the Saudi-backed Lebanese opposition leader Saad Hariri implicated Hezbollah for the attack. “Shatah’s murderers are the same ones who assassinated former premier Rafik Hariri.” This was a reference to the bomb-blast killing of his father, Rafik, also a former prime minister, in 2005.
A United Nations-backed Lebanese tribunal has indicted five members of Hezbollah for that 2005 murder. The trial is set to open in the coming weeks in a Hague court. For the past eight years Hariri’s group have accused Hezbollah as well as Syrian intelligence over that assassination, without the accusations gaining much credibility.
Both Hezbollah and Syria have strenuously denied any involvement, saying that there is no evidence, and that the tribunal is politically driven. Hence, they have refused to cooperate with the forthcoming trial.
That is why Saad Hariri said of the latest killing: “The accused… are the same ones who are running away from international justice.”
Shatah’s assassination this week comes at a sensitive time, which strongly suggests who the real perpetrators might be.
First, the atrocity serves to re-ignite the accusations against Hezbollah, and its regional allies, in the murder of Rafik Hariri just when the case is being re-opened in an international court.
Secondly, there is the forthcoming Geneva II political talks organized to find a peaceful solution to the nearly three-year Syrian crisis. If Hezbollah, and by extension Syria and Iran, can be linked by sensational media claims of involvement in the murder of high-profile Lebanese politicians, then that would have a damaging impact on the Assad government during the Geneva negotiations.
Thirdly, and this is more to the point of who are the likely perpetrators, the murder of Mohamad Shatah comes at a time of mounting sectarian tensions and violence across the region. Lebanon has witnessed a wave of deadly bomb attacks and assassinations in recent months, which have mainly targeted Shia areas of Beirut.
Earlier this month, a senior Hezbollah commander was shot dead. And at the end of last month, a twin suicide bomb attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed 29, including Iran’s cultural attaché, Ebrahim Ansari. Back in August, a bomb outside a Sunni mosque in Sidon reportedly butchered 40 people.
This violence replicates the pattern of sectarian bloodshed unleashed in neighboring Syria and Iraq. There is ample evidence to show that that violence is being systematically fuelled by Saudi Arabia, working in collusion with Israeli and Western intelligence.
Israel in particular has a long track record of sabotaging Lebanon from within, having invaded that country in 1978, 2000 and 2006. There is also evidence that its agents were the real authors of the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005.
Lebanon is particularly vulnerable to sectarian strife. The country’s communal wounds are still raw from the 15-year-old civil war between its Sunni, Shia, Christian and Druze communities, which ended in 1990. There have been renewed sectarian clashes between Sunni and Shia/Alawite groups in Sidon, Tripoli and several other towns over the past year. Saudi-backed Sunni clerics have been prominent in agitating sharper tensions in Lebanon.
This pattern of sectarian destabilization within Lebanon and across the Middle East by external forces is consistent with the latest murder of Mohamad Shatah in Beirut. The massive blast is believed to have come from a 50-60 kg bomb wired in a booby-trapped car. Wreckage was scattered 100 meters away and some 40 other cars were damaged, some of them upended. This was a professional hit with a devastating message.
In the grand nefarious scheme of geopolitics it matters little that Shatah was a prominent Sunni figure who was an ardent critic of Hezbollah and Syria. Indeed, from the viewpoint of the agents of subversion and destabilization, Shatah’s political and religious affiliation would have made him a prime target for their purpose of trying to explode sectarian war.
The heinous role played by Saudi, Israeli and Western intelligence in inflicting untold suffering on civilians across the Middle East, whether Shia, Sunni or Christian, means that their capability of using the dirtiest tricks knows no limits. The murder of Mohamad Shatah would be viewed by these dark forces as merely an expendable sacrifice if that means achieving the bigger aim of inciting all-out sectarian war in Lebanon; and engulfing the entire region in internecine flames.
The powers that gain from this atrocity are those that sow division and thrive on conflict in order to shore up their illegitimate hegemony over the region and over the mass of its ordinary, decent people.