Looking Behind and Into the Assassination
By: Ibrahim al-Amin
Published Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Let us try to enter the mind of whoever decided on and carried out the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan.
They (an individual, organization or state) must have considered Hassan to be an enemy who needed to be got rid of. This may have been to punish him for something he did, to prevent him from doing something, or to use the assassination to send a message with political and security overtones to the parties seen as standing behind Hassan. Accordingly, in addition to making the necessary logistical and technical preparations, the killers would have considered the likely repercussions of and reactions to such a move, both if it were to succeed and if it were to fail.
Given Lebanon’s experience over the past decade, any rational person would know that the assassination of someone of Hassan’s stature would have an explosive impact. But this rational person may have decided to proceed with the operation having taken the anticipated fallout fully into account. It is also clear from the nature of the operation that the perpetrator was highly professional. That leaves us with limited possibilities.
First, that Lebanese parties were involved, in collaboration with external parties, because they supposed the direct political fallout from an operation of this magnitude would benefit their political side. The assassination could be expected to bolster the political camp to which Hassan belongs. The political repercussions would, therefore, be highly negative for the perpetrators if they were opponents of March 14.
Second, that the perpetrators’ external political connections enabled them to conclude that the killing would not cause a major change in their domestic political scene, nor even in the regional and international scene as it relates to Lebanon. That implies that they had the capacity not only to execute a plan aimed at eliminating an enemy, but also to ensure that the fallout would remain limited.
Third, the bombing was the work of a party that is hostile to everything in Lebanon, such as Israel. Hassan had previously received warnings from Arab intelligence agencies that Israel was upset with him for cooperating with Hezbollah in uncovering Israeli espionage networks in Lebanon.
Fourth, that al-Qaeda opted to pre-empt an anticipated confrontation between it and Hassan. There have been many indications, including the outcome of his last meeting with the director of the CIA and his aides, that Hassan was a partner in the process of gathering intelligence on groups affiliated to al-Qaeda in Lebanon and the region. He and the Americans agreed to exchange information about the activities of these groups in Syria and Lebanon.
Can any of the possibilities currently being talked about be ruled out?
Yes, though that might displease a great many parties today. There are 1,001 reasons that make Syria an unlikely suspect.
People working in security deem it naive to think Hassan’s assassination was a response to his uncovering of the Michel Samaha case. There are many reasons for that, including the fact, revealed by the crisis in Syria, that the Syrian security establishment is in seriously and dangerously decrepit condition – as evidenced by its failure to take the most basic security measures to prevent repeated attacks on high-level regime figures.
How could such a precise and professional action be carried out by an entity that cannot protect its own centers from simple infiltration? Does everyone remember how the opposition managed to poison senior officers in the national security bureau, and then came back and carried out a multiple assassination by bringing explosives into the meeting room? How can a state which could not find or arrest its own prime minister after he defected and remained inside the country before leaving, suddenly display a high degree of proficiency in a security operation that would have required thorough and professional preparation?
How could someone who demonstrated the utmost stupidity in preparing Michel Samaha’s plan for confronting the regime’s opponents in Lebanon, become highly sophisticated a few weeks later and mount an operation like that which targeted Hassan? In the past, some used to cite the fact that the assassination attempts against Marwan Hamadeh, Elias al-Murr and May Chidiac were botched as evidence that Syria was behind them!
At present, a specialist team is conducting the investigation. The hard evidence available so far is confined to footage of the booby-trapped car being parked, also showing the time, and some distant and unclear images of the individuals who drove it to the location. Investigations are proceeding – and will be kept under wraps for some time – into questions such as: How did the perpetrators know about Hassan’s arrival in Beirut the previous evening, and his decision to go to the apartment in Achrafieh which had been exposed some time previously? Who were the people who were in a position to know that? Are any them linked to the perpetrators, or were they under surveillance, enabling the perpetrators to reach Hassan? What about the mechanism of the explosion, the nature of the device, and the bombers’ confidence that they could hit the target with such precision and ease? What traces did they leave behind? Can communications data help identify them? What kind of movements were witnessed in the area recently, and how could the killers operate with apparent ease?
Meanwhile, as some engage in a vile game of exploiting blood, a family has had a massive calamity inflicted on it. One need only look again at the images of Wissan’s two sons at the funeral to appreciate the enormity of the personal tragedy, which alone lives on in memory.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.