Monday, February 14, Rafiq Hariri, five times Lebanese prime minister, multibillionaire, builder of a country devastated by 15 years of civil war, was assassinated by a huge car bomb that ravaged the Lebanese capital’s seafront. Two ministers in his party and 6 of his bodyguards, including its chief Yahya Al Arb, were among the dead. Efforts to save his life at the American Hospital to which he was carried in critical condition were unavailing. The attack is described as the most brutal since the civil conflict ended in 1991.
Last year, Hariri stepped down in protest against the extension of pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud’s presidency and was about to take the lead of the opposition. A towering figure in Lebanese politics, Hariri was expected to fight the election due to take place in April or May.
The Lebanese hammer blow that came down on the Bush administration from Beirut set back its plans to bring democratic reforms to the Middle East. US officials were still digesting the import of Iraq’s general election the day after its results were released in Baghdad. They were also still waiting for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to come up to scratch in fighting terrorism. Its impact will be regional in magnitude, affecting the next stage of Iraqi insurgency and the chances of a Palestinian-Israeli accommodation.