(photo credit: reuters)
After much delay, the prosecution of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon finally delivered its indictments last week against those responsible for the murder of Lebanon’s late prime minister Rafik Hariri. The indictments point to Hezbollah members as the main suspects behind the massive blast that killed Hariri along with many others. Backed by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah seemed to have confidence in his organization’s ability to avoid any blame. But, it turns out, Nasrallah’s self-assurance was misplaced, as the UN-backed tribunal submitted its indictments and arrest warrants to Lebanese State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza on Thursday.
From a humble beginning as a negligible Shi’ite organization in the early 1980s, Hezbollah has now evolved into the chief arbiter in Lebanese politics, managing to dictate the identities of both the current prime minister and his cabinet. In its initial stages, Hezbollah gained its reputation through an extensive use of brutal terror, introducing to the world the phenomena of modern suicide bombings as a tool of coercion and intimidation, and the widespread use of kidnappings of foreign citizens in Lebanon.
Today, Hezbollah’s power is based on its military force, including up-to-date weapons originating in Iranian and Syrian depots.
Recently, Bashar Assad’s regime, concerned by the unstable situation in Syria, even permitted the relocation of some of its most advanced weaponry to Hezbollah’s storehouses in Lebanon.
Abetted by its military might, Hezbollah is also a multi-dimensional
organization, with a strong political arm, a vast social and economic
system and a powerful religious apparatus, all of which effectively
serve its campaign to threaten and terrorize its adversaries. According
to leaks from the tribunal’s investigation, it is likely that Hezbollah
militants were indeed those behind the planning and execution of
Not surprisingly, then, Hezbollah has been determined to thwart the
investigation using all means, abasing the tribunal’s credibility by
calling it the “Israeli Project,” and targeting its members and
Nonetheless, the evidence already disclosed is enough to put Nasrallah’s
eulogy over Hariri’s grave, in which he praised the slain prime
minister as a “Lebanese patriot,” in a ridiculous light.
Now that the tribunal’s final conclusions prove publicly that Hezbollah
is culpable for Hariri’s assassination, Nasrallah is bound to receive a
mark of Cain for undermining Lebanese national interests. Ironically,
under the same claim of patriotism, Hezbollah not only continued its
armed struggle against Israel after its unilateral withdrawal from
southern Lebanon in 2000, but also attained its special status as the
leader of Lebanese resistance against its enemies without submitting to
the authority of the elected political representatives. Hezbollah also
used its military force to impose its will in internal disputes, such as
the 2008 violent takeover of several Beirut neighborhoods by Shi’ite
gunmen, which nearly drove the country into a new civil war.
After continuously building its strength with its patrons’ assistance,
over the past few years, a dramatic development has occurred between
Syria and Hezbollah, who have upgraded their partnership to “strategic
alliance.” Iran, on the other hand, has preserved its position as the
traditional patron of the Lebanese Shi’ite party, a role it undertook
when the Iranian Revolutionary Guards trained and organized Hezbollah
troops in the early 1980s.
Thus, although the tribunal declared it would prosecute “only
individuals – and not groups, organizations, states,” anyone
knowledgeable about Hezbollah’s relationship with these two regimes
could affirm that the leadership of both Syria and Iran would not only
have been well informed about the assassination, but also have approved
Such a grand-scale operation, targeting a political leader with
international prestige, could not have occurred without prior intense
dialogue between Hezbollah and its patrons; an operational approval from
the highest-ranking officials in Assad’s regime, along with the
explicit consent of Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei.
Furthermore, if Hezbollah members are indicted in the upcoming trial,
there should be no doubt that Nasrallah himself approved the operation,
and that his military commander Imad Mughniyeh (killed a year later in
Damascus) planned and personally supervised the execution.
Iran and Syria are likely to use the “probable denial” tactic often used
by state sponsors of terrorism to rebuff any evidence of legal
responsibility. However, since in our era confidential information often
finds its way to the media, and due to the possibility of Assad’s fall,
we are likely to see documented evidence of that crime in the future.Yoram Schweitzer is director of the
Low-Intensity Conflict and Terror Project at the INSS, and Gilad Stern
is an intern at the INSS.