Posted by: sean | November 22, 2006

Some thoughts on Gemayel’s assassination

The Times has the only English-language account I’ve seen of the assassination to go into the specific logistics of the killing:

While other anti-Syria figures have been killed in the past two years, Mr. Gemayel was the first to be shot in the head and not blown up with a bomb.

Mr. Gemayel was in the passenger seat of his own silver Kia, driving through the Christian neighborhood of Jdeideh, which he represented in Parliament. About 4 p.m., a car rammed into Mr. Gemayel’s and three gunmen rushed his car, spraying it with bullets from silencer-equipped automatic weapons, Lebanese security officials said. The driver, who was not injured, drove to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where Mr. Gemayel was declared dead.

And here is what the car looks like:

Given the large number of bullet holes that either entered or exited through the passenger seat (it seems much more likely that these are entrance shots), it seems very strange to me that the driver should be able to walk away from this incident unhurt.

I’ve also been wondering about why Gemayel would be targeted. Although he has little to no actual political power, his family name still carries a lot of weight and his death can be counted to rally Christian supporters. Would Syria have anything to gain from killing someone like him? If the Syrians were going to assassinate someone, knowing full well that they would be the first to be blamed, wouldn’t they aim higher?

This also comes at a time when Washington started looking like it was ready to engage Damascus, a prospect that seems highly unlikely now. And finally, there’s the different MO. Why would the Syrians use gunmen instead of their usual car bombs?

It just doesn’t make sense to me. If the Syrians are trying to stop the international tribunal, an assassination attempt like this seems the opposite of a viable strategy, since the Security Council immediately approved it after Gemayel’s assassination. And if they wanted to stop the cabinet from approving it, I’m pretty sure that that would be redundant, since the absence of 7 cabinet ministers (5 from Hezbollah and Amal, 1 from Aoun’s party and 1 who resigned last February), I think, although I’m not 100% sure of this, that the cabinet was already constitutionally powerless to pass the tribunal. Finally, why would Damascus bother trying to get negotiations together with Washington if they knew they were about to destroy and talks with the US by killing Gemayel?

Or perhaps living in Beirut has seen the Lebanese propensity for conspiracy theory rub off on me. And maybe it’s best never to underestimate the stupidity of national regimes. So maybe I’m reading too much into this, and Damascus has just shot itself in the foot again. Time may or may not tell.

UPDATE: The details of the attack are somewhat different in this account by the Daily Star. They make no mention of whether or not the driver was hurt but report that one bodyguard has died and another’s condition is unknown. The report also states that the current government can have up to 8 ministers absent before the cabinet is unable to achieve a quorum. I’ve had different information from other sites, including Al-Manar, but have so far been unable to confirm the actual law.

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