Michel Samaha was a clumsy sideshow. The real assassination pros pulled off a stunning feat on Friday.
Following Friday’s astonishing Ashrafieh assassination, there was a lot of talk in Lebanon linking the explosion to the aborted plan by Michel Samaha, a Lebanese ex minister and Assad confidant, to initiate a series of explosions in the north of Lebanon to terrorise the population. Assad, the logic went, is bent on creating mayhem in Lebanon to divert attention from what’s happening in Syria.
Yet the more I think about these two sinister plans the more I believe that they have completely different masterminds. This is important because it clarifies a common Lebanese misunderstanding and shines a light on the bigger picture of what is happening in Lebanon and in the region.
Dilettantes versus experts
Think for a moment of what happened with Mr. Samaha. That entire situation now feels like a joke, a foolish and comical undertaking by amateurs. The Syrian president allegedly slips some explosives to his pal, a cowardly soft-spoken Christian ex-minister, who falls like a rat into a trap set up by Lebanon’s intelligence, only to tearfully confess his misdemeanour on record to the entire Lebanese people. Not only that, but the only person in Lebanon who defends him is Jamil el Sayyed, a man so lacking in eloquence that he turned himself and Samaha into complete laughingstocks.
Now compare that to what happened on Friday. A targeted assassination that successfully took out one of Lebanon’s most powerful and secretive men on the same day he came back to Lebanon from abroad. Wissam el Hassan is so secretive that you can hardly find pictures of him online, so powerful that he gets under Hezbollah’s skin, and yet the assassins knew the date he will land in Lebanon, the road he will take, and the time he will take that road. The assassins meticulously, carefully and flawlessly designed a plan to take him out.
It just doesn’t sound right that the same hand was behind these two events.
What this means
There are two ways to interpret the conclusion above: The first is that the entire Samaha episode was a setup and that the Syrian-Iranian axis is as powerful as ever (as demonstrated by Friday’s killing). The other explanation, which I find more plausible, is that Assad has weakened greatly in Lebanon and he now only controls fools like Samaha, Sayyed and Wiam wahhab. The Iranians and their proxies on the other hand are as powerful and precise as ever.
Many Lebanese have a habit of instinctively blaming Assad whenever something bad happens in Lebanon. It is perhaps time to revisit this assumption and do what the Special Tribunal for Lebanon did long ago: Focus on the real source of terror in this country.