Bashir and Hairiri (Part One)
By Richard Sale, author of Clinton’s Secret Wars
The history of our foreign policy in the Middle East are so ugly and twisted and so stolid and remorselessly ruthless that reviewing them is a real glimpise into genuine moral squalor.
Lebanon is an excellent example. U.S. policy there in 1982 was under the influence of the truculent hawk, Ariel Sharon. Israel was then supplying covert support to the main Christian group in Beirut, the right-wing Phalangist party, headed by Bashir Gemayel who had the face of a baby and the mind of wolverine. Sharon came to America asking that the Reagan people put up another $ 1- million to support Bashir. The Reagan people were deeply in thrall to Israeli views and, like Israel, they saw Lebanon as a “regional influence,” and like Casey thought that the PLO was the major threat to Israel and were delighted that Bashir also loathed the PLO.
Little ducks in a row.
The case was complicated. Elements in the CIA were opposed because Bashir was a homicidal thug. He had attacked a rival Christian group headed by Tony Frangieh, killing the man’s two-year old daughter, his wife and various staff members of the Frangieh home. In 1980, Bashir had come close to wiping out another Christian group headed by Camille Chamoun.
Why would Washington want ties to such a man? We are all the slaves of pressing contingencies. The necessary has to get done. Bashir in the early 1980s come to Washington to work for a law firm and the CIA had recruited him there. But the Christian group, the Phalange was a force and we wanted a say in its operations and direction and Bashir, charming and effective seemed the way to have it. And given US influence, the scope of his information, Bashir’s importance grew to become indispensable.
Beirut at that time was like the Balkans in 1914, teeming with so many spies, they tripped over each other. Bashir was a murderer, but he had political talents and he would say all the right things, speaking of the “new Lebanon” and impressing many who, like Bashir, had no idea of what it meant.
The Casey operation involving Bashir was complicated. I am speaking here from memory, but as I recall, the CIA station in Beirut couldn’t stomach Bashir whom they thought an abomination) so CIA chief Bill Casey ran the whole operating off the books, outside the normal, internal channels and secret channels using a staffer on the National Security Council who dealt directly with a Bashir aide in Beirut. It was all very neat and tidy. More and more Bashir began to be seen by Washington as a man who would “stabilize” Lebanon., especially by outfits like the CIA station in Tel Aviv. If Lebanon was allied with the US, it would derail the existing balance of power that then ran in favor of Iran, Syria and other states unfriendly to Israel and America.
As relations with Bashir grew closer Casey and Reagan approved a more widespread overt op that involved another secret payment of $600,000. Then on Sept. 14, while going to speak at a Phalangist, gathering, a car bomb blew up a building which came down and killed Bashir.The agency was horrified - to have such a prominent asset assassinated meant a major disaster for its reach and authority.
The Bashir killing brought a train of calamitous events in its wake, one of the most ugly as the Israelis letting Phalangist elements into PLO camps where the inmates were massacred along with dogs, cats and other animals. The bombing of the Marine barracks was quick to follow.
The bomb that killed Bashir had been installed by one Habib Chartouny 26, whose case officer was a captain in the Syrian service and Israeli efforts eventually came up with a Lt. Col. Mohammed, G’aman also a Syrian intelligence officer in charge of Lebanese ops, as the mastermind of the plot.
All of this could have resulted in a blood feud with Israel killing Syrian agents and vice versa, except for one Israeli intelligence chieftain, Maj. Gen Saguy, who had always felt a strong Lebanon-Israeli tie to be a mistake along with US support fo Bashir. Casey’s strategic vision had been that of a man with a box around his head. The CIA chief was left facing a major intelligence failure and a lot of missteps ( One thinks of Samuel Johnson’s quip, “All stupid people think they’re cunning.” In any case, the whole episode of clandestine support for Bashir was buried and kept quiet.
Bashir and Hariri Part 2
The tale of Bashir seems an appropriate introduction to a world, like that of Lebanon, in which nothing really is at it seems.
Rafik Hariri was, like Bashir, thought to be another example of a fruitful CIA recruitment. The original story claimed that Hariri was recruited in the 1980s by the CIA Chief of Station (COS) in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, Alan Fiers, when the Saudis offered Hariri to be the Saudi representative of the Murphy-Habib-Hariri team attempting to identify and deal with menacing regional problems.
Diplomat Richard Murphy had close contacts with Hariri and most sources think that Murphy passed Hariri onto Fiers. Fiers was reported to be a vain man who wasn’t likely to consider Hariri a plant by Saudi intelligence. Fiers was therefore active in displaying Hariri as an example of a perceptive agency recruitment. (My sources here are all former senior US intelligence officials who only spoke to me on condition of being allowed to remain anonymous.)
But in summary, Hariri’s chief value would be to promptly pass on to the U.S. and his handlers relevant intelligence able to affect U.S. interests in the region. This meant Saudi diplomatic contacts with Syria and other major area players.
A Look at the Man
Hariri began his life an a very poor child in the South Lebanese town of Sidon. After completing high school there, he went to Beirut where he attended the Arab University. After two years, he dropped out and moved to Saudi Arabia where he became an ace constructor of royal palaces as part of special deals with various Saudi princes and financial backers who continued to back him until he died.
It was to please this group that Hariri became a member of the Wahabis, an extremely anti-Western and anti-Semitic sect. According this faction, severe, austere, extreme Islam must be extended to as many areas as possible. In particular, Palestine was placed under severe Sunni Muslim authority and was to be restored to its position before the arrival of the Zionists. The same extreme Sunni faction was to use Harir to help fund other extremist Sunni groups. One of the extremist Wahabi groups found an ally in no other than the Al Queda of Osama bin Laden. (There is no evidence of Hariri ever having channeled monies to Al Queda that I know of – allegations by some in intelligence to this effect have never been proved. ) The chief difference was that Osama bin Laden was to use terrorism to advance the Wahabi cause while Hariri’s means were to be diplomatic.
Hariri soon became a multi-billionaire. The extremist factions passed hundreds of millions of dollars to him as part of “sweetheart deals” in order to enable him to return to Lebanon as a Saudi agent. Within five years, Hariri had founded his own company SCONEAST that acted to “legitimize” (read “launder”) the proceeds from his ventures.
In October 1989, the Lebanese National Assembly met in Taif, Saudi Arabia, to ratify the National Reconciliation Accord, forged under Saudi and Syrian tutelage. This ended the decades-old Lebanese civil war. The agreement also asserted Lebanese authority over southern Lebanon, which had been occupied by Israel, and it also made legal the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.
Following the accord, the Saudis arranged for Hariri to become the Lebanese prime minster, even though Hariri for six years was a Saudi citizen and a subject of the Saudi king. (He remained a Saudi citizen until his death. ) By the time of his return to Lebanon, Hariri’s worth was reliably estimated by U.S. sources to be between four and five billion dollars. By a2004, it was estimated to be $10 billion. Said a former senior U.S. intelligence source, “The increase had resulted from the continuing flow of monies from Saudi Arabia in addition to the billions that he and his Lebanese partners have looted from the Lebanese economy.”
All the while some in the CIA assumed Hariri was their man, ignoring the fact that the Saudis were the directing force, and not realizing that all the while, the same Wahabi factions that funded Hiriri were also busy giving money to extremist Sunni groups whose aim was to reassert Sunni dominance of the eastern Mediterranean. And all the while Hariri advanced such interests portraying himself as a defender of the Sunnis against the Shia and different Christian communities in Lebanon.
During the sermons Hariri preached in mosques, he often held up the Hezbollah and other Islamic terrorist groups as models of resistance fighters against Israeli aggression and occupation. He was quite incapable of shame, encouraging attacks against minority religious figures and did nothing to prevent attacks against the Christian leaders as well. In Syria, he used his Wahabi money to buy the cooperation of the Syrian branch of the Syrian Baath Party. To do this, Harari took the sons of such figures as Hikmat Shilabi, Abd al-Halim Khaddam and Mustafa Tlas as his “partners.” Before the death of then Syrian President Hafiz Assad, Hariri and his Saudi backers believed that the resultant unrest caused by the inexperience of Assad’s son, Bashar, meant that Khaddam could safely be made president overseeing the restoration of majority Sunni rule in Syria under Wahabi influence.
But Assad had become aware that Hariri posed a threat to the succession of his son, and removed Hariri from office as a precaution. In a flash, a delegation arrived in Damascus from Saudi Arabia protesting Hariri’s fall. The members of the delegation were all members of the Suderi faction of the Royal Family and all devotees of the Wahabi cult. The delegation demanded that Hariri undergo a gradual “rehabilitation” that would end by restoring him to office. They threatened that if this were not done, Bashar would never be received in Riyadh. Assad’s reaction was to say lamely that he would think about it, but in fact, he immediately phoned Crown Prince Abdullah in Riyadh to tell the prince what his guests had just said. Abdullah reacted by inviting Bashar to Riyadh in the coming weeks to make clear that he, Abdullah, was in command, not the Wahabi fanatics.
In a campaign that appealed to the most vile bigotry and inflammatory prejudice on the part of Muslims against Jews and Christians, including allegations that Muslim candidates who opposed him were secret converts to Christianity or agents of the CIA, combined with huge bribes paid to officials and directly to the electorate, Hariri was restored to office in September 2000.
Crisis and Death ( Hariri Part 3.) To be continued.