February 14, 2005: No Valentine for Lebanese Billionaire

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A Brief History

On February 14, 2005, former Lebanese Prime Minister and then a multi-billionaire Rafic Hariri was blown up while driving in his motorcade in Beirut by a suicide car bomb.  Born in Sidon, Lebanon in 1944, Hariri worked as a teacher and in the construction business in Saudi Arabia where he made his fortune, He returned to his war torn homeland where he was a force for peace, only to be assassinated by Hezbollah terrorists a year after he left office.

Digging Deeper

As a young adult, Hariri went to Saudi Arabia to seek work in 1965, soon switching from teaching to the construction business.  Hariri took on dual citizenship from both Saudi Arabia and his home of Lebanon and became successful in the construction business when he joined the French company, Oger.  Landing lucrative government contracts, Hariri eventually bought out Oger for himself, renaming the firm Saudi Oger, and working extensively for the Saudi Royal Family.  Hariri became wealthy from his construction business, and undertook various charitable activities, notably in Lebanon.  His wealth and association with the Saudi Royal Family gave Hariri a measure of fame and influence, which he used for the benefit of the people of Lebanon.  In 1979 he founded what became the Hariri Foundation, and in 1982 he personally donated $12 million to victims of the South Lebanese Conflict of 1978, fighting between various Lebanese, Palestinian, and Israeli forces, part of what embroiled Lebanon as the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).

The Martyr’s Square statue in Beirut, 1982, during the civil war.  Photograph by James Case from Philadelphia, Mississippi, U.S.A.

Harari acted with the help of the Saudi Royal Family to broker an end to the Lebanese Civil War (1990 Taif Agreement), though critics have accused him of actually helping finance some of the fighting that destroyed much of Beirut, leading to profitable business for Hariri’s construction firm to help rebuild the city.  Critics claim Hariri’s wealth grew from about $1 billion to $16 billion while Hariri served as Prime Minister.  Hariri became Prime Minister of Lebanon in 1992, and served until 1998.  Hariri was once again made Prime Minister of Lebanon in 2000, this time serving until 2004.  During the early years of Hariri’s tenure as Prime Minister the economic situation in Lebanon improved dramatically, but tapered off in the late 1990’s.  As a supporter of  UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for all foreign troops to leave Lebanon, Hariri was in conflict with those factions that wanted Syrian troops to remain in Lebanon, a seeming contradiction with his good relations with Syria, and later cited the presence of Syrian troops as necessary for the freedom of Lebanon.

Hezbollah, an Islamic extremist organization made up of Shiite Muslims and based in Lebanon has been largely supported by Syria and Iran and is considered by the US and most of the Western world as a terrorist organization.  Hezbollah is especially dangerous to Israel and its supporters, as well as Christians and Sunni Muslims in Lebanon.   In fact, Hariri was criticized for allowing Hezbollah to operated freely in Lebanon, claiming that it was Hezbollah that helped keep Lebanon free of Israeli occupation.

George W. Bush and Hariri meeting in the White House. Photograph by Susan Sterner (White House Photo Director).

The 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States by Islamic extremist terrorists led President George W. Bush to issue his famous “either with us or against us” ultimatum to any country that harbored terrorists.  Hariri was put in a position of risking US retaliation if he continued to allow Hezbollah and/or any other possible terrorist organizations to exist within Lebanon and refused to hand over suspected Hezbollah terrorists to US authorities.  Hariri was now pitted against Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah and the threats from the United States, forced to ask the Syrians to leave Lebanon.  In a classic example of “you can’t make everyone happy” Hariri angered al Assad and the Syrian strong man allegedly threated to have Hariri killed.  A tense meeting between Hariri and al Assad in August of 2004 lasted a confrontational 15 minutes, in which al Assad criticized Hariri’s relationship with French leader Jacques Chirac.  Hariri left office in 2004, but lingering bad feelings from al Assad and Hezbollah did not go away just because Hariri was out of office.

On February 14, 2005, Hariri was traveling in a motorcade in downtown Beirut when a car bomb containing the equivalent of 4000 pounds of TNT blew up as his car passed.  Hariri was killed instantly along with several other people.  Most of the Western world was shocked and disappointed by the murder of Hariri, a man seen by many as a force for peace and reasonableness in a crazy part of the world.  Investigators concluded the bombing had been a suicide bombing, and that Hezbollah had been behind the terrorist act.  Syria was initially blamed for the assassination, and widespread protests in Lebanon against Syria led to the evacuation of Syrian troops from Lebanon.  Some Lebanese military generals were detained and accused of plotting the crime, but were released due to lack of evidence, and allegations against various Syrian officials also did no hold up under scrutiny.  The fact that other anti-Syrian Lebanese were also murdered soon after the Hariri assassination implies a certain pro-Syrian aspect to the murder of Hariri.  Eventually, 4 Hezbollah suspected terrorists were accused of the crime and put on trial in absentia, although one has since died.  Meanwhile, the other 3 defendants remain on the loose.

Ministry of the Interior soldier guarding the site of the attack that killed Hariri.  Photograph by Petteri Sulonen from Helsinki, Finland.

Hezbollah has since blamed Israel for the Hariri murder, postulating that Israel wanted to kill Hariri and blame Syria for the crime in order to foment the eviction of Syrian troops from Lebanon.  Hezbollah has also issued a demand that the government of Lebanon refuse to cooperate with the international Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigators of the Hariri murder.  Some evidence exists that Syria is particularly interested in stifling the investigation of the Special Tribunal.  Other leaked information includes an alleged plan by Hezbollah to seize control of the government of Lebanon should any of their members ever get indicted by the UN based on the findings of the Special Tribunal.

Humanitarian and patriot, or greedy opportunist?  Hariri was certainly an important and interesting character, and his death proves that even vast wealth cannot necessarily protect you from the evil intentions of other people.

Hariri memorial shrine.  Photograph by st1ke.

Question for students (and subscribers): Had you previously heard of Rafic Hariri?  Do you think he was a legitimate patriot or was he only out for himself?  What other very rich people can you think of that have been murdered?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Blanford, Nicholas. Killing Mr Lebanon: The Assassination of Rafik Hariri and Its Impact on the Middle East. I.B. Tauris, 2008.

Harris, William. The New Face of Lebanon: History’s Revenge.  Markus Wiener Publishers, 2009.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by st1ke of the shrine and resting place for Hariri in September, 2005, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.  This image was originally posted to Flickr by Str1ke at https://www.flickr.com/photos/69567805@N00/99115826.  It was reviewed on  by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.