Roger Whittaker

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Saturday 26th February 2005

As soon as I heard about the bomb in Tel Aviv yesterday, I expected to hear Syria being blamed for it, and so it has turned out.

It looks more and more as if Syria is "next in line". It's very hard to believe that the murder of the Lebanese ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut was anything other than a cynical operation by Israel and/or the United States with the intention of creating a situation in which they can attack Syria.

As Jim Muir wrote for the BBC:

The manner of Hariri's death strongly suggests involvement by a major intelligence agency.

It had clearly been meticulously planned on the basis of strong and accurate intelligence about the former prime minister's movements.

The size and precision of the explosion left the intended victim no chance of survival and reflected a capability that would be surprising were it to be within the means of a small, random group.

After similar assassinations in the past, Lebanese analysts have pointed out that, while Syria may have been the most obvious suspect, that might give its sworn enemies - mainly Israel - strong motivation to carry out an action that would most likely be blamed on Damascus.

Israel certainly has the capability, and will undoubtedly be blamed by some, despite a lack of obvious motive.

The only problem lies in the last six words - the motive is very obvious and he has already outlined what that motive would be.

As Patrick Seale wrote in the Guardian:

If Syria killed Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister and mastermind of its revival after the civil war, it must be judged an act of political suicide. Syria is already under great international pressure from the US, France and Israel. To kill Hariri at this critical moment would be to destroy Syria's reputation once and for all and hand its enemies a weapon with which to deliver the blow that could finally destabilise the Damascus regime, and even possibly bring it down.

So attributing responsibility for the murder to Syria is implausible. The murder is more likely to be the work of one of its many enemies.


Israel's ambition has long been to weaken Syria, sever its strategic alliance with Iran and destroy Hizbullah. Israel has great experience at "targeted assassinations" - not only in the Palestinian territories but across the Middle East. Over the years, it has sent hit teams to kill opponents in Beirut, Tunis, Malta, Amman and Damascus.

As always, one of the most important questions to ask is "who benefits?".

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