Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Tactical Analysis of the Gemayel Assassination - Dec 6

I've got a real cracker here from stratfor about that Pierre Gemayel assassination. Looks like a military operation from top to bottom. It seems also rather apparent that the Syrians and the Iranians had a direct hand in Gemayel's death. Something about this really stinks, and I don't think we'll get to the bottom of this along with the al-Hariri killing. A real mess indeed.

Johnny Cash

The Death of Gemayel: A Tactical Analysis - Dec 06, 2006
By Fred Burton

The recent murder of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel -- who was shot to death while driving through Beirut's Jdeideh neighborhood Nov. 21 -- has sparked a political crisis in Lebanon. Gemayel, a staunch opponent of Hezbollah, was a leader of the March 14 alliance, the anti-Syrian coalition that holds a majority in the Lebanese parliament. The alliance has been outspoken about alleged Syrian involvement in the high-profile murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005.

Gemayel is the latest in a string of high-profile Lebanese figures -- most of them anti-Syrian -- who have been targeted for assassination since October 2004. However, the methods used in his murder differ markedly from any others used in the recent past. First, assassins rammed his car and pinned it down; then gunmen stepped forward, firing multiple well-aimed shots from close range through the driver's side window. Gemayel was driving, with his two bodyguards, in an unarmored and unescorted vehicle. In most other cases, the assassins used bombs, often targeting the motorcades of political officials as they passed by and, at times, inflicting collateral damage.

Thus, the tactics used in the Gemayel killing represent an anomaly, which also happens to come at a key time for the region as a whole. That said, there is a signature to the attack that points toward specific suspects and, quite possibly, their strategic and geopolitical motives.

The Targets

Though the assassination of al-Hariri garnered international headlines and was a catalyst for the "Cedar Revolution" that drove Syrian troops out of Lebanon, the recent campaign of violence against anti-Syrian officials actually began in October 2004, when Druze parliament member Marwan Hamadeh narrowly escaped a car bomb attack on his motorcade.

This failed attack likely was something the actors in the al-Hariri murder bore in mind: They used a massive vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) -- estimated by U.N. investigators to have contained at least 1,000 kilograms of military explosives -- in the Feb. 14, 2005, killing. The assassins apparently wanted to make sure al-Hariri did not escape as Hamadeh had. But in killing him, they also took the lives of 22 others and damaged hotels and businesses in a fashionable district of downtown Beirut -- carnage and destruction that caused a massive uproar within Lebanon (and far beyond) and led to a U.N. investigation, which eventually concluded that Syria was responsible for the hit.

Five more anti-Syrian figures were targeted for assassination in 2005; all of the incidents involved explosives. The last of those killed, a year before the Gemayel murder, was Gebran Tueni (who, interestingly enough, was murdered only a day after returning to Lebanon from Paris, where he had fled for safety). However, the international pressure following the release of German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis' October 2005 report for the United Nations on the al-Hariri killing (and a second report issued Dec. 10, 2005) apparently led to a temporary halt in the violence.

Clearly, assassination by explosives is a common and recurring theme in Lebanon. In fact, Pierre Gemayel's uncle, Bashir Gemayel (then the president-elect of Lebanon) was killed in 1982 by a large bomb, placed in the Kataeb (or Phalangist) political party's headquarters.

The Gemayel Operation

The death of the nephew was very different -- and between the lines of the news reports, there is quite a story.

Gemayel was driving a late-model Kia sedan with tinted windows. He reportedly owned an armored BMW but was not using it the day he was killed. He was not, however, moving about as a private citizen might; there were two bodyguards in tow. All of this leads us to believe Gemayel was aware of some threat to his life, and that he was taking measures to obscure his movements. As the al-Hariri killing showed, even a first-rate armored vehicle and a full motorcade with a well-armed security team is not sufficient to protect a target from a 1,000-kilogram VBIED. So it appears Gemayel either was driving a nondescript car by itself in an attempt to mask his movements, or he had sent the BMW as part of a dummy motorcade elsewhere to draw any would-be assassins to the decoy.

It also is significant that Gemayel was driving the car himself, with a Lebanese state security officer in the right rear seat -- where a VIP normally would be sitting in a chauffeured car. This would seem a further attempt to deceive potential assassins, and one that would be aided by the fact that the Kia had heavily tinted windows. Gemayel's personal bodyguard was sitting in the right front seat of the car.

There is every indication that the attack itself was well-planned and purposely timed.

First, the strike came near an intersection on a busy East Beirut street, lined on both sides with parked cars -- something that limited the target's mobility. Stratfor sources have said traffic normally is heavy along this street at the time of day the attack occurred, but some eyewitnesses have said it became unusually sparse just beforehand. Rumors are circulating in Beirut that supporters of Gen. Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian in the pro-Syrian camp, might have lent a hand. Aoun's supporters are numerous in this neighborhood, and there is speculation by sources in Lebanon that one of them dressed in a police uniform and held back traffic to enable the assassins to flee the scene.

When the Kia reached the attack site, it reportedly was rammed in the front by a Honda CRV. The impact crumpled the hood and sent the Kia backward. It was then struck in the right rear quarter panel by a blue Fiat hatchback and in the rear by a van. The now-inoperable vehicle was pinned in. At that point, three gunmen reportedly jumped out of the CRV and opened fire on the driver's side window of the Kia. Gemayel and his bodyguard were killed; the Lebanese security officer in the backseat ran away from the vehicle and survived. The gunmen returned to the Honda and fled.

Within seconds of the shooting, a BMW arrived on the scene. This appears to have been a security team whose job was to ensure Gemayel was dead and to cover the escape of the shooters -- or, alternatively, to provide them a means of escape had the Honda been disabled in the attack. The team members in this vehicle also might have been functioning as spotters, whose job was to alert the assassins that Gemayel was approaching the attack site.

Reading the Clues

All in all, there are abundant signs that Gemayel was killed by a highly trained, disciplined attack team.

The conditions of the attack site and the sophisticated way in which the Kia was disabled and hemmed in are the first clues, but even beyond that, it is clear the assassination was swiftly and precisely executed. Gemayel's bodyguard never had time to pull his weapon: Either he panicked and froze or, perhaps between the collisions and the airbag deploying in his face, he never realized an attack was being executed.

Media reports stated that Gemayel's vehicle was "sprayed" with gunfire, but photos from the scene clearly show that all of the rounds fired into the vehicle entered through the driver's side window, in a tight grouping. There was no "spray and pray" or "Beirut offhand" shooting here. The assassins were obviously trained shooters who were able to control their fire -- even under the extremely stressful conditions of conducting an assassination in broad daylight. Even when shooting from close range, keeping one's cool and hitting a target rapidly and accurately under such pressure is not as easy as it looks on TV. It requires extensive training.

Perhaps the most significant clue stems from the fact that the assassins clearly were operating with intelligence support. They were able to determine in advance when Gemayel was going to be at the attack site, and that he would be in the driver's seat of a Kia rather than the rear seat of an armored BMW. The use of small arms fire is an indication in itself: This would not have been effective against the armored vehicle in which Gemayel normally traveled. Furthermore, the gunmen did not direct any of their fire into the backseat, where a political official normally would be sitting. They clearly knew their primary target would be driving. Therefore, they had advance intelligence of the route, time, vehicle and location in the vehicle where they would find their target.

Such detailed intelligence could have come in two ways. One possibility is that the assassins launched their operation on short notice after having learned from an exceptionally skilled surveillance team that Gemayel was driving a "soft" vehicle. However, for this theory to carry any water, one must assume Gemayel's routes and times of movement were predictably ordered -- which, given the deception he clearly was trying to employ by driving the Kia, would seem not only stupid but out-of-character. That means the second possibility is more logically tenable: An inside source gave the killers the details they required.

The fact that the Lebanese state security officer in the backseat of the Kia was the only person to survive the attack has raised suspicions that he was somehow involved in the plot. These suspicions are strengthened by the fact that the officer did not return fire -- even though he reportedly had two shoulder weapons with him at the time of the attack -- and by the fact that he personally did not come under fire. Knowing that trained shooters are taught to first take out the target who poses the greatest threat (aka has the biggest weapon), the fact that no shots were fired at the officer with two shoulder weapons is indeed interesting. If the assassins could obtain the precise intelligence that Gemayel was driving the Kia, they surely could have determined that the officer in the backseat was the one with the long guns.

The size and structure of the assassination team is also noteworthy. Stratfor sources have said there were three elements involved: the attack team, the security team and a separate surveillance team. This level of specialization and coordination does not come easily -- it requires practice. Therefore, we can conclude that the Gemayel strike was not the team's "first chili cookoff." The leader who planned the operation was also very good: The strike was logical, well-planned and well-executed.

Furthermore, there was excellent operational security. Even in settings of extreme sectarian strife and violence, it is difficult to orchestrate a plot to kill a government minister -- especially a plot involving such a large team of operatives -- without any leaks. Though Gemayel was employing extraordinary security measures, this does not necessarily indicate that he knew an attack was imminent. It is routine for political figures in Beirut, especially anti-Syrian ones, to take such measures.

The Lineup

The fact that the tactics used in the Gemayel assassination departed so drastically from those used in other assassinations in Lebanon would seem to indicate that it was not carried out by the "usual suspects" -- in this case, Syrian intelligence and its Lebanese assets. However, it also was far too sophisticated to have been the act of random criminals or even the average Lebanese militia member or terrorist. The complexity of the plot and the high degrees of discipline and training exhibited by the attack team point toward state sponsorship -- which, again, implies Syria. However, this operation does not have the ham-fisted feel of the al-Hariri hit. There is a level of sophistication and brutal elegance that seems almost -- dare we say Persian?

This is not an unfounded suspicion. Apart from the geopolitical alliance and shared interests of Syria and Iran, there is a tactical precedent to be considered. The Gemayel attack brings to mind the March 8, 1995, strike against a U.S. Consulate shuttle van in Karachi, Pakistan, in which two American diplomats were killed. In that attack, which U.S. authorities determined was carried out by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, a taxi cab was used in a ramming/blocking operation, and two gunmen fired methodically into the van, using small arms. A command/control vehicle was reported on the scene as well.

Though it is clear the Syrians had a motive for killing Gemayel, they obviously would not want to attract the kind of international attention and pressure that ensued from the al-Hariri assassination, or to be the subject of another "Mehlis report." Therefore, assuming for the moment that the Syrians were responsible, they might have used different tactics to mask their involvement -- and to provide themselves with plausible deniability.

But there is also is the matter of collateral damage, which was massive in the al-Hariri strike and nonexistent in the Gemayel operation. All in all, this assassination simply seems too sophisticated for the Syrians to have carried it out alone. It was too professional and surgical. Therefore, it is plausible that the Syrians might have contracted the operation out to another party. The tactics used would indicate the Iranians, or perhaps a Syrian or Lebanese operational planner who has spent significant time training in Iran.

There is another state actor in the region capable of such a sophisticated operation: Israel, which is famed for assassinations involving small commando units and surgical small arms fire. (Not possible. Jews are much more elegant killers than Muslims - JC) However, the murder of an anti-Syrian, anti-Hezbollah politician would not seem to be in Israel's national interest, unless it was carried out as a frame-up operation against Syria. This is certainly something Damascus has alleged, but such a move for Israel would be most useful only as a means of bringing more U.S. and U.N. pressure to bear against Syria. And, in the wake of the Mehlis report, the United Nations and Washington have ample means of doing this without a political assassination.

By the same token, however, Syria has been known in the past to blame Israel for political killings in order to sow confusion and distract from signs that point to Syria as the culprit. The coordination and professionalism displayed in the Gemayel operation could have been intended to cast suspicion on Israel.

Intelligence being gathered from sources in the Lebanese government also points (though not definitively) toward Syria. The preliminary investigation has found that a former Syrian state security officer, who goes by the pseudonym "Abu Michel," toured Antelias (a neighborhood close to Jdeideh, the assassination site) several days before Gemayel was killed.

Thus, while it is not known definitively who pulled the trigger on Gemayel, there can be little doubt at the strategic level that Syria was the author of the plot. And given the Iranian signature on the strike, it appears that the actors -- plausible deniability notwithstanding -- are using the assassination to send a clear geopolitical signal to the West and, most important, to the United States. Washington is now facing pressure to engage both Damascus and Tehran in efforts to resolve the crisis in Iraq -- a symbolic victory for states Washington long has deemed "rogue" actors. Neither the Syrians nor the Iranians are keeping a particularly low profile at the moment, and Tehran at least has seemed quite eager to turn the knife, judging from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's public statements. The Gemayel assassination -- coming at such a sensitive time for developments in the region -- could be a similar show of bravado by Syria, intended in part to humble the United States.

Copyright 2006 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.

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