Yesterday a car bomb in Beirut killed a senior Lebanese security chief along with seven others, while wounding hundreds in Ashrafiyeh, a busy neighborhood in Christian-majority East Beirut. The target, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, was close to former prime minister Saad Hariri and his late father, Rafik Hariri. Yesterday evening, Hariri supporters, mostly Sunnis, closed down roads and burned tires in protest against the assassins, almost certainly tied to the Syrian regime and their Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
The bombing and murder of Hassan marks a return to the period of 2005-2008, when Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his allies embarked on a campaign of violence, including bombings in residential areas and assassinations of Lebanese figures opposed to the regime in Damascus. That era kicked off with the Feb 14, 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, and ended only after Hezbollah’s May 2008 siege of Beirut and the Chouf mountains. This conflict led to the Doha accords, which paved the way for the Shiite militia to take control of the government. The current campaign may turn out to be even bloodier for the stakes are higher—to ensure not only the continuation of Hezbollah’s hegemony, but also the Syrian regime’s survival. Assad is counting on the international community, led by the White House, to rescue him from the twenty-month long uprising that seeks to bring his regime down on his head.
Wissam al-Hassan was chief of the internal security force’s information branch, and the third top officer of the unit to be targeted. The first was Samir Shehade, who survived a bombing in 2006 and left the country. Next was Wissam Eid, whose number-crunching detective work on the Hariri assassination provided the international investigative team with several leads. Eid survived two attempts on his life before he was killed in January 2008. Hassan himself had been threatened repeatedly. Just this week, an editorial in a pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper identified Hassan as an enemy, likely foreshadowing his murder. Damascus’s contempt for Hassan was out in the open. Several years ago, the regime issued “arrest warrants” for its Lebanese enemies, the compilation of which was essentially a black list naming those who had crossed Assad and his allies and were likely to pay the price. Along with a number of March 14 political figures, Hassan’s name was also on the list as was that of his boss, ISF chief Ashraf Rifi.
ISF officers are prime targets because the information branch is the only one of the four security outfits inside Lebanon that has been effective in fighting terror—i.e., Hezbollah and Syria. The state security is simply weak and inefficient, while military Intelligence and general security have proved complicit with Hezbollah and Syria. Indeed, it seems that the latter service may bear some responsibility for Hassan’s death. He had just returned from abroad the day before the bombing, passing through the airport, which is controlled by general security, headed by Hezbollah ally, Abbas Ibrahim. Some speculate that general security alerted Hassan’s hunters, who had him followed and killed, a modus operandi matching the murders of parliamentarians Gebran Tueni (killed in 2005) and Antoine Ghanem (killed in 2007), both of them Syrian regime opponents slain shortly after their re-entry into Lebanon.