May 26, 2009

Who is accusing Hizbullah of killing Hariri?

I didn't think too much of this Der Spiegel report when it appeared a few days ago. The headlined claimed that New Evidence Points to Hezbollah in Hariri Murder. But now a Time magazine blog is suggesting that the "new evidence" might actually be bogus:
However, any evidence that Hizballah either collaborated in or else masterminded the plot against Hariri would also be welcome news to the U.S, which considers the militant group to be a terrorist organization, and to Israel, which has been fighting with Hizballah ever since the group formed in 1982 to resist the Israeli occupation of Lebanon.

But there are reasons to view the Der Spiegel story with suspicion. A rumor that the UN tribunal had begun to focus on Hizballah had been making the rounds in Washington for weeks now. For it to have a public airing in the press just a few days ahead of Lebanon's parliamentary elections on June 7th -- a contest which the Hizballah-led opposition is poised to win -- makes it appear that someone opposed to Hizballah has been shopping this story around in a desperate measure to affect the elections.

The Der Spiegel theory also doesn't fit with the current understanding about the relationship between Hizaballah and Hariri. The former prime minister and billionaire businessman may have been one of the few other people in Lebanon whose outsized character could compete in the spotlight with Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, but Hariri was not a threat to Hizballah's main concern -- its military infrastructure. True at some point, Hariri's push for greater autonomy could have been a problem for Hizballah, if independence came with pressure on Hizballah to disarm, or if it became difficult to get weapons over the Syrian border. But as my colleague Nick Blanford ponits out in his excellent book about the Hariri assassination, "Killing Mr. Lebanon" in the weeks before his death, Hariri began a series of clandestine meeting with Nasrallah in order to reconcile their two visions of Lebanon. Hariri believed that he was close to reaching an agreement.

For his part, Nasrallah heaped scorn on the Der Spiegel article in a speech last night, and accused the magazine of being party to an Israeli plot. Eventually, time will tell if Der Spiegel is right: sooner or later the UN tribunal -- which is ostensibly keeping its investigation secret -- will have to issue its findings and announce suspects if there are any.

This is all quite interesting to me now because I heard just recently that there was a group within the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission with US intelligence backgrounds promoting the idea that Hizbullah was connected to the Hariri case. The idea was rejected on the grounds of motive, since as the Time article said, Hizbullah had no motive. It was also believed that certain parties had a motive for putting Hizbullah in the frame. One such party is to be found just to Lebanon's south and, far too often, in Lebanon's south.

It's interesting too that Lieberman was jumping up and down for the arrest of Nasrallah within 12 hours of Der Spiegel's report hitting the streets. Does Israel's foreign minister really make his demands on the basis of what he reads and that anyone else can read in the papers?

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