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The assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon has spurred American and Israeli officials to take a tough stand against Syria. Despite having no direct evidence to link Syria to the attack, America was quick to warn Syria of dire consequences. The spokesman for the White House, Scott McClellan said, "This murder today is a terrible reminder that the Lebanese people must be able to pursue their aspirations and determine their own political future, free from violence, and intimidation and free from Syrian occupation.” McClellan stressed that it was "premature" to say who was to blame, but he called the attack "an attempt to stifle the efforts of those who want an independent and sovereign Lebanon that is free of foreign occupation, that is free of the involvement of Syria in that country."
American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the matter with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and also planned to speak to the French government, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. . Only recently Bush criticised Syria in his annual State of the Union speech saying Damascus "still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region.". The Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom in a candid statement suggested Syrian involvement in the bombing. He said, ”I cannot say for certain that Syria is behind this attack but there are many groups which could have carried it out. There is no doubt that Syria, which supports [the Lebanese Shia militia] Hizbullah, [the radical Palestinian groups] Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups that are opposed to the democratisation of the Middle East, is uncomfortable with the prospect of elections in Lebanon and the last thing they want is to be forced to leave Lebanon. “.
On the other hand the European response was reserved. Jacques Chirac, French president said,”France strongly condemns this crime. It asks that an international inquiry be launched without delay to determine the circumstances of this tragedy and who is responsible. France, like the entire international community, will closely follow the unfolding of this situation.” .
However, there was wall-to-wall condemnation from Hamas, Hizbullah, pro –Syrian MPs and the Syrian government. Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, said, “The Syrian government and people stand alongside brotherly Lebanon in this dangerous situation and convey our sincerest condolences to the family of Mr Hariri and the families of the other victims.” . In marked contrast there was outrage amongst the political opposition and the Lebanese people against Syria, which maintains some 16000 troops. On 14/02/05, members of the Lebanese opposition movement issued a statement holding Syria and the Lebanese government negligent in Mr. Hariri's death.
So who benefits from this situation the most – Israel, America or Syria?
It is well known that Hariri fell out with the Syrian regime last year over the decision of the Lebanese parliament to extend Emile Lahoud's (pro Syrian) term in office for a further six years. This action was widely seen as increasing Syria’s grip on Lebanese politics. Hariri also called for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon and supported the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1559, which demands a full withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon. The Syrians to date have not fully withdrawn from Lebanon either militarily or politically. Hariri was also a strong supporter of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and had ties with the mainly Christian opposition. Therefore some are speculating that Syria had the motive to assassinate Hariri in the hope of shoring up its political base in the forthcoming elections. Actually the converse is true. The Syrian regime is already suffering from punitive sanctions and its every action is closely scrutinised by Israel and America. Hence it is very unlikely that Syria would have undertaken such an action, since it knows too well that such an act would undermine its authority in Lebanon and invite a serious response from America.
Rather the assassination needs to be viewed in the wider context of the Sharm-al- Shiekh meeting where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to discuss the peace process. Security was the key topic on the agenda, with primary focus on how to reign in Palestinian militants. To facilitate this, America pledged aid for the Palestinian Authority, appointed a Lt General to oversee security issues and also asked Egypt and Jordan to help the Palestinians and the Israelis to subdue the militants. So far Abbas has been struggling to put a halt to their activities, especially Hamas which recently carried out mortar attacks against Israeli settlements. In response Abbas sacked the overall commander of Palestinian, Gen Abdul Razek Majaidie, along with national police chief Saeb al-Ajez and another senior official. But this was not enough to halt the attacks and he still needs American and Israeli support to disarm the militant groups who enjoy support from neighbouring Lebanon and Syria. This is the only significant event to occur before Hariri assassination.
Israel and America on a number of occasions have chastised Syria and pressed the Baath regime to deny it military, financial and territorial support to these organisations. In May 2004, President Bush banned American exports to Syria with the exception of food and medicine, stopped Syrian aircraft from flying to and from the United States and froze the assets of Syrians suspected of violating a law passed by the US Congress in November 2003. But at the time America was unable to take further action because Sharon was facing difficulty in mustering support for his Gaza withdrawal plan and the American elections were looming.
But after Bush’s state of the union address and the meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon, it appears that America intends to rollback Syria’s occupation of Lebanon and sever its links to the Palestinian militants, thereby allowing Israel to press ahead with the Gaza withdrawal plan. The bombing gives America and Israel the perfect opportunity to create popular opinion against Syria’s occupation of Lebanon as well as seeking international consensus on punitive measures against Syria. A senior State Department official stated, "We're going to turn up the heat on Syria, that's for sure”, he carried on to say that, "It's been a pretty steady progression of pressure up to now, but I think it's going to spike in the wake of this event. Even though there's no evidence to link it to Syria, Syria has, by negligence or design, allowed Lebanon to become destabilized." 
Thus developments on the ground appear to be in agreement with the statements from American and Israeli officials and also provide a clear indication of how they expect Syria to behave. The next step is for America to push for a UN resolution asking Syria to withdraw or face stern action. This will raise the spectre of violence in the coming days; hence the real benefactors are Israel and America and it is most likely that they were behind the Hariri assassination.