Requiem for Hariri

Israel's surrounding neighbors are not the kind you'd ask for a cup of sugar. See the sad tale of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Ehud Barak, once Israel's prime minister, currently its defense minister, famously said that Israel was like "a villa in a jungle." Arabs and the politically correct took offense or pretended to take offense. Is it accurate, is it morally sound, to call the Arab societies and states that surround Israel a "jungle"?

If he were so minded, Barak could now point to the Hariri affair as a precise and accurate illustration of his point.

The affair is now six years old. In 2005 Rafik Hariri, the still politically significant former prime minister of Lebanon, was blown up by a powerful car bomb, along with thirty bodyguards and bystanders, on an upscale Beirut street. Hariri had led the opposition to Syria's continued, sometime brutal, military occupation of his country (which, under international pressure, formally ended later that year). This was only one of a string of assassinations of journalists and politicians who had opposed the Syrian presence in Lebanon. Most commentators immediately pointed to President Bashar al-Assad and his regime as the party responsible.

But Lebanon was a powerless polity—and the task of investigation, at Western instigation, was handed over to an ad hoc court, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up by the United Nations. After endless delay and changes in the investigation's leadership, findings and a preliminary charge sheet, naming names, have apparently been finalized. Leaks have it that the perpetrators were a team of Hezbollah operatives (Hezbollah has always been good at car bombs)—and they were pinpointed as a result of a slipup by one member, who used his operational cell phone to make a private call to his girlfriend.

The fundamentalist Shia Hezbollah, Syria's main ally in Lebanon and a ward and agent of the powerful Shia regime of Iran, is, as all know, a highly disciplined, efficient hierarchical organization—and the assassination could only have been organised and ordered by the organization's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. And he could have carried it out only on the authorization of his patron regime in Damascus (and with the approval of Tehran).

But al-Assad and Nasrallah do not want to be publicly pilloried—and perhaps even criminally charged—in the international arena, and over the past two years have mounted an extortionate, arm-twisting campaign to "persuade" Saad Hariri, Rafik's son and the current prime minister of Lebanon, to call off or at least to dissociate himself from and reject the international tribunal's prospective findings and charges.

Or else. The "or else" is usually presented as Hezbollah either militarily taking over Lebanon (the Lebanese Army, made up of over 50 percent Shias connected one way or another to Hezbollah, is a powerless body) or assassinating the young Hariri and his associates—or, at the least, plunging Lebanon into another bloody civil war (since the last one, fought from 1975 to 1990 largely along Muslim-Christian lines, cost some on hundred thousand lives, that is the thing Lebanese of all sectarian persuasions fear most).

So Saad Hariri, who only five years ago led the clamor to bring his father's murderers to book, in December 2009 made a Canossa-like visit to Damascus, beaming alongside Bashar al-Assad in well-publicized photo ops, and now seems poised to reject the international tribunal's findings, should they actually devolve into a criminal indictment. And he is being pressured to do this by his sometime ally, Saudi Arabia, traditionally a foe of Syrian and Iranian power in the region, because Riyadh fears that if he doesn't, Hezbollah will sweep him aside and take over Lebanon, resulting in another Iranian victory in the Middle Eastern power game.

So it is unlikely that al-Assad and Nasrallah and their agents will ever stand trial for a murder everyone believes—knows—they committed.

Is this not the definition of a "jungle"?

 

(Image by Aotearoa)