Monday, April 22, 2024

The Beirut Plot Thickens…….

The investigation into the Beirut Port Blast of August 4th, 2020, has come to a grinding halt through a judicial imbroglio which has, in all but words, rendered the process nugatory. The investigating judge, Tariq Bitar, is reportedly dedicated to his job, a person with integrity, and unproven political affiliations. Judging the person would yield little clues. However, judging the investigative path itself calls for different conclusions.

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We maintain, as in the previous ‘Watch Post’ article, that the current battle in Lebanon is one of presidential succession. In the framework of this local blood sport everything is permitted including, the use of the Beirut Port Blast’s victims to smear and destroy a political opponent or two. 

How could an investigation into a devastating explosion be used during a presidential election?

Gibran Basil, President Aoun’s son-in-law and sole successor, has two direct rivals in the presidential race who need to be discarded. He also has one indirect, deep-rooted political opponent who must be seriously contained. In this scheme of things, the long arm of the court seems to be extending its reach beyond the realm of justice.

The first rival is Suleiman Franjieh, former MP and minister, scion of a North-Lebanon feudal clan, and a protégé of Bashar al Asad of Syria. In 2018, Franjieh was a serious contender to the top spot. He garnered support from the US, France, and Saudi, who at the time, instructed its local political agent namely, S. Hariri to endorse Franjieh’s candidacy. However, Iran had different plans and it instructed its much more efficient, lethal, and nefarious local agent namely, Hezbollah to back only Aoun with zero tolerance for failure. As a result, Hariri et al. caved-in, the Shia parties leaned-in, and the other political parties followed suit. Franjieh’s candidacy was done. Now that Pres. Aoun has less than a year to go, Franjieh is back in the race supported by all anti-Aoun forces. As if by pure coincidence, the Beirut Port Blast’s investigation has been laser-focused on a former minister of public works, who is very close to Franjieh, and subject of US Treasury sanctions. By doing so, the judge’s investigation, or those pulling the strings behind its thick curtains, is vicariously dragging Franjieh through courts, and labeling him as being partly responsible -if morally only- for the death of mostly Christian victims in a mostly Christian part of Beirut. 

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The second rival of Basil is Samir Geagea. A former Christian militia chieftain turned into a right-wing politico, jailed for 11 years during Syria’s occupation era, and of late a particularly close ally to Saudi. Geagea personally believes (and he is unanimous in that), that the US Treasury sanctions on Basil and, the close association between Franjieh and the Asad clan, render him the only logical choice for the presidency. His latest sweeping victories in parliamentary elections, have somewhat rehabilitated his public persona from a former militiaman into a mainstream politician. His short-lived alliance with Aoun prior to the presidential elections to short-circuit Franjieh’s candidacy, was simply disastrous. Hoping to divvy up the spoils, Geagea instead got the short end of the stick in any power-sharing scheme. Licking his wounds silently -but not innocently- Geagea remained low key, high pitched and equally influential in the Christian redux. To make things worse for his opponents, he was not, even remotely, associated with the Beirut Port Blast. So, emerging squeaky clean when all the ruling class was accused of criminal neglect, was too much to fathom. Something had to give! The bifurcation of a violent and provocative Shia protest into the Christian neighborhood of Ail El Remaneh on October 14, is what needed to happen. Shots were exchanged, innocents and less-innocents fell, and the street fight reawakened memories of the 1975-1990 civil war. Before anyone could even catch a breath, Basil accused Geagea of murder, mayhem, and massacre. Most of the Shias, and a good deal of the Sunni establishment, nodded in acquiescence at such statements thus, sealing the fate of Geagea the would-be candidate into Geagea the outlaw rebel, once more.

The last political obstacle to Basil’s presidential aspirations remains Nabih Berri, the boss of the post-Taifnomenclature. He staunchly opposes Basil’s gargantuan appetite for power, and his growing streak for sharing in State-sponsored graft. By another unlikely coincidence, the Beirut Port Blast’s investigation has been going after one of Berri’s closest lieutenants. A former minister of finance, who also happens to be subject to US Treasury sanctions. Berri views Aoun as politically dangerous (he did not vote for him in 2018) and knows Basil to be over-ambitious and, power-hungry. For all these reasons, his favorite candidate for the presidency is Franjieh who is less demanding, more malleable and who could play the role of president without taking it too seriously. Therefore, through the damming verdict of a judge, the aura and power of Berri could be damaged and, as a result, his claws that were often used to harm Basil’s candidacy, clipped.

The party pulling the strings behind the curtain of the Beirut Port Blast’s investigation is a dangerous mind with a watchmaker’s precision. Using the explosion as a game of political billiard, that party is hitting in directions that have apparently unintended, but clearly interconnected, targets.  Like in any billiard’s game, the force acting on the ball has two components. One being the normal reaction force: proceeding with a legitimate investigation. The other is the friction force: throwing in disarray several obstructing objects. The two forces together have a resultant which acts in the squirt direction: clearing the way for a smooth path to the presidential palace.

Thomas Jefferson once said: “Every gentleman plays billiards, but someone who plays billiards too well, is no gentleman”.

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