W. Thomas Smith, Jr

It’s one thing to be embroiled in the recent media circus surrounding my reporting from Lebanon; it’s quite another to learn that in the midst of that circus – though having nothing to do with it – one of my strongest sources while I was in Lebanon, Gen. Francois Hajj, was assassinated Wednesday.

Hajj, 55, a Maronite Catholic and the director of operations for the Lebanese Army, was killed in a car-bomb attack, on the route between his home and his office at the Ministry of Defense in Beirut. It’s been reported that he “was considered a leading candidate to succeed the head of the military, Gen. Michel Suleiman [Sleiman], if Suleiman is elected president.”

Who killed Hajj? Who knows.

Some newspapers are reporting the possibility that the assassination was the work of an offshoot cell of the al-Qaeda affiliated Fatah al Islam militant group, which was wiped out almost to a man in the Battle of Nahr al-Bared.

“Another possibility,” according to the UK’s Times Online, “would be pro-Syrian militants within Lebanon, who are believed to have been behind the killings of a number of anti-Syrian politicians in the past two years.”

Hours after the Hajj killing, I asked Middle East terrorism/counterterrorism expert, Dr. Walid Phares:

“From what I understand, there were a few motivations behind his assassination:

“First, as chief of operations for the army, it was believed that killing him would demoralize the army, and hence pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian militias would be sending a message to the Lebanese army saying, ‘You can’t get close to us.’

“Second, he was considered to be the next commander of the Lebanese army.

“Third, the plan, which ultimately defeated Fatah al Islam, was engineered by Hajj.”

So who killed him?

“The Axis,” Phares tells me. “The Axis -- as referred to by the experts in Lebanon -- includes Syrian intelligence, Pasdaran (Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), Hezbollah, and the other combined Jihadist movements.”

During my time in Lebanon – September and October of this year – Hajj was one of my strongest sources. And despite my railing against the often under-reported threat of Hezbollah activities in Lebanon – as well as what I perceived to be problems within the military -- Hajj pulled some serious strings enabling me to gain greater access to elements within the defense structure from which I had been previously barred.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He is the author of six books, and he has covered war and conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and Lebanon. Visit him online at http://www.uswriter.com.
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