Nasrallah and Hariri

Some reactions to Nasrallah's press conference in Lebanon on the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. 

Writing in the Daily Star, Rami Khouri says the Hizbullah leader had four related aims when he made his statement accusing Israel:

  • Deflect attention from the widely expected accusation that Hizbullah or some of its members will be indicted for the murder by the UN-mandated Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL); 

  • Provide evidence that would make Israel a credible suspect in the crime; 

  • Question the legitimacy or fairness of the STL investigation during the past five years; 

  • Prod the Lebanese government to undertake its own analysis of the credibility of available evidence and witnesses related to the crime investigation.

Khouri goes on to contrast this questioning of the UN investigation with Hizbullah's behaviour on previous occasions when it felt itself under threat:

In the past five years, when the Lebanese government took decisions that Hizbullah disliked or found threatening, Hizbullah responded by occupying parts of the downtown area or militarily taking over selected symbolic buildings in West Beirut. 

Today, when Hizbullah feels threatened again, it responds (for now) with … a multimedia show on primetime television. It challenges and rejects the ongoing STL investigation but also offers evidence for the court to consider. Its suggestion that the Lebanese government launch an honest investigation into the issues and evidence it has put on the table is, like the evidence offered Monday night, intriguing but not fully convincing.

Serious crime investigators explore all possible leads, however dubious they may feel about some of them. Hizbullah’s evidence may be merely a diversionary or delaying tactic, or, it could hold some important credible leads. The Lebanese government, the STL and Hizbullah are involved in a life-and-death dual political and legal process. The credibility of the political dimension requires absolute professionalism and impartiality in the quest for justice sphere, which means that all "reasonable doubt" issues must be addressed firmly and quickly.

The key word here is "doubt" rather than "evidence". Nasrallah is seeking to construct an alternative narrative of the Hariri assassination. Whether it can be proved or not is beside the point, so long as it is sufficient to cast doubt on the credibility of the special tribunal. 

For those who are worried about the internal tensions the tribunal is creating within Lebanon (and there are many who do worry), pointing a finger at Israel – whether rational or not – also provides an easy way out of the impasse.

Writing in al-Akhbar (in Arabic), Khalid Saghiyyah says:

The question is not, therefore, whether Israel killed al-Hariri. The question is whether the accusation can be directed against Israel. This is the question that Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah responded to ... And perhaps this was what he meant when he said that what he was offering was not evidence but data. 

Data is enough to save the country. The documents that were presented ... say, simply: "Yes, it is possible to re-direct the accusation towards Israel." And this alone represents a suitable exit for everyone. An exit for the fabricators of false witnesses. An exit for those who are rightfully accused. An exit for those wrongly accused. An exit for the descendants of the victims.

Meanwhile, Elias Muhanna wonders how Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated leader and current prime minister of Lebanon, will respond. Noting that Saad "has been the primary champion of the STL's mission to find and punish his father's killers", Muhanna writes in Foreign Policy:

On the eve of an indictment, the tribunal that helped [Saad] Hariri build the political movement that he leads today now threatens to place him in an impossible position. Far from strengthening his hand in Lebanon and promoting the interests of his international allies, Hariri is faced with the possibility that the multi-million dollar, five-year investigation will deliver a verdict that he must publicly denounce, or else risk losing control of the country.

Muhanna explores Hariri's options in more details in his Qifa Nabki blog:

If Hariri simply ignores Nasrallah or dismisses his demands, he will be increasing the likelihood that this government will not last the year, throwing the fate of the STL itself into question ... 

On the other hand, if Hariri takes the initiative now to form a Lebanese investigating commission, he will force the spotlight back on to Hizbullah and its claims that Israel killed Rafiq al-Hariri ...

Hariri should not hesitate to launch such an investigation. If the materials [provided by Hizbullah] are unconvincing, this will surely become clear when they are subjected to intense scrutiny. If there is something actually there, we will be one step closer to discovering al-haqiqa [the truth].

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 11 August 2010.