Ten years ago Lebanon had her own St. Valentine’s Day Massacre when former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri along with 21 others were car bombed outside the St. George Hotel by the Beirut seafront.

At the time the Middle East was stunned. The author was based some 2,000 miles south in the Garden City of Al Ain, a glorified village at that time, largely managed by ex-pat Lebanese, and could feel the shock – it was our President Kennedy moment.

Born in 1944 in Sidon, Hariri was undoubtedly a popular, if difficult man to work alongside, let alone work with who made his money which ran into the multi-billions through construction in Saudi Arabia in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Like all Arabs Hariri cared passionately about education and four years into the Lebanese Civil War, he founded the Islamic Association for Culture and Education, a risky venture in a split country which demonstrated the balls of steel he possessed.

By 1982, maintaining his close links with Saudi and in particular the shadowy Prince Bandar, Hariri had an international reputation as ‘one of the good guys’ and was celebrated for donating $12 million to victims of the conflict and using his own business to attempt to rebuild a shattered capital. Nevertheless he was still very much Riyadh’s ‘Man in Beirut’.

He was partly responsible for the 1989 Taif Accord which ended the Civil War with Lebanon, an honour which must also be shared with General Aoun for breaking the militias militarily and Lakhdar Brahimi for his diplomatic skills.

These baby steps towards peace ensured his first term as PM from 1992-98 under President Hrawi. Between the two, they rebuilt Lebanon’s tourism industry, and by default the country’s world reputation; but perhaps more importantly through the issuing of Eurobonds, Lebanon won the respect of the World Bank through their plans to rebuild the country and the economy. This was what Hariri called ‘Horizon 2000′.

Due to a power struggle between Harari and newly elected Pesident Lahoud, the promising PM temporarily left office for two years.

Upon his return in 2000, a tenure that would last four years, things began to crumble for Hariri.

The ambitious Horizon 2000 project certainly improved telecommunications transport networks, however, Lebanon was still under Syrian military occupation, and rather like Arkan during the Yugoslav Wars of 1992-1999, the Syrian Army helped itself to any resources Lebanon had to offer. The initial show of strength in the Lebanese economy had now turned into asthmatic exhaustion in less than six years.

The economic failure of the nation was quickly followed by 9/11 and Hariri uncharacteristically went from being a shrewd political operator to an honest politician, perhaps indicating how compromised politically he was. He ill-advisedly supported Hezbollah because they protected Lebanon from Israel and stated Syrian troops should remain until they were no longer required, naively expecting them to leave when asked, drawing the wrath of ‘Dubya’ (George W. Bush) who bluntly said ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists’.

In retrospect Hariri’s thought on the status of Syrian presence in Lebanon sealed his fate. He was caught between political masters on one side, and a superpower with a bee in its bonnet on the other. He was a double-edged sword now that no one needed.

By August 2004 President Assad of Syria said to Hariri in a 15-minute meeting that if he wanted him ‘out of Lebanon, [he] will break Lebanon’. This is an unoriginal echo of what General Aoun said about Assad’s father after he had broken the militias in 1989 when he said all he needed to do now was ‘break Assad’s head’.

The senior anti-Syrian faction were worried and Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt, warned Hariri that one or both of them had their cards marked.

As it happened it was only Hariri that was to die on Valentine’s Day the following year. Hezbollah have been blamed by multiple sources for the assassination, but vigorously deny it, and all the evidence points away from them and directly towards Damascus, unless Hezbollah were used as a proxy, which is not unlikely.

Hariri’s murder led to what is known as the Cedar Revolution – a series of peaceful demonstrations against Syrian Occupation. Under pressure from George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the Syrian Army left Lebanon. Their intelligence network remained and does remain intact as this author discovered during a trip to the British Embassy two years ago where someone was driven around it pointing an RPG Launcher at the Embassy and Lebanese Security could do nothing about it due to diplomatic immunity.

So what exactly is Hariri’s legacy? Syria is in sectarian chaos, ISIS are active in parts of the north and east, Israel is about to wet its pants, and it seems unlikely that the Lebanese Army even with the firepower of Hezbollah can defeat the fanatics.

Could Hariri have seen any of this coming? No. But his epitaph could read: ‘Made $1 billion between 1970 and 1992; made $15 billion between 1992-2005; provided kickbacks to favourites while the national debt was $18 billion’.

Rafic Hariri b. 1st of November, 1944; d. 14th of February, 2005. There went a well-meaning yet ultimately flawed man.

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