Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is not known for dealing in crime or in dirty politics. He is known for leading a large, well-armed Shiite militia in southern Lebanon, whose weapons point south and once terrorized Israel's northern villages. He is also known for his determination to keep that militia intact, despite a UN resolution calling for its disarmament and despite Christian and Druze opposition to its continued existence after it fulfilled its mission of pushing the Israeli army out of southern Lebanon.
That's why experts, local and foreign, say that if news of the plan to assassinate Nasrallah is true, the mover and shakers behind the apprehended gang of nine is most likely Israel or the US - or both.
"Who else would it be?" asked Patrick Seale, a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of many books. "I can't think of anyone who would dare to do it from the inside. There might be some extremist Christian groups who think is this the way to press their case. But that's unlikely. It's much more likely to be an Israeli operation."
Professor Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon, agreed. "It's either Nasrallah's Lebanese enemies or Israel," said Zisser, who served in the IDF's intelligence before turning to academia. Zisser, who wrote Lebanon: The Challenge of Independence, is now the head of the Department of Middle Eastern and African History and a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. According to Zisser, Nasrallah's Lebanese enemies would include supporters of Osama bin Laden.
Israel rejected all accusations that it had a hand in the plot.
"There are always those who are saying Israel is behind everything. We were behind 9/11. We were behind the invasion of Iraq," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, facetiously. "It's simply ludicrous."
Nasrallah is famous for being a highly effective leader who can draw a million people to a demonstration. He is also an ardent enemy of Israel, and repeatedly calls for its destruction. Both Israel and the US consider Hizbullah a terror organization. Since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon to an internationally recognized border, Nasrallah has limited Hizbullah's attacks to the Shebaa Farms, which it believes belong to Lebanon, not Syria. The IDF has said that Hizbullah is trying to kidnap Israeli soldiers for prisoner exchanges, such as the one that took place in 2004.
This would not be the first time someone tried to kill a leader of Hizbullah.
"Of course the US tried to kill Fadlalah - so they might want to kill Nasrallah," said Seale, who wrote Assad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle Eastâ€š "The Americans, the Israelis. It's the same axis."
In March, 1985, Elie Hobeika, a Maronite Lebanese and member of the Phalange militia, tried to assassinate Hizbullah leader Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, reportedly at the request of the CIA, which blamed Fadlallah for bombing the headquarters of US and French forces in 1983 that killed 298. Fadlallah survived but dozens of innocent people were killed. Consequently, the CIA supposedly ended its relationship with the warlord.
Hobeika is also infamous for directing the Phalange militia to brutally massacre over 2,700 Palestinian men, women, and children in September, 1982. At that time Hobeika was the Phalange's principal military liaison officer to the IDF and was ordered by then Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon to deal with the camps. The Kahane Commission later found Sharon indirectly responsible for the killings.
Twenty years later, on January 22, 2002, Hobeika announced he was willing to testify before a Belgian court, which had agreed to put Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on trial for war crimes in the Sabra and Shatilla massacre. Two days later, Hobeika was killed by a car bomb outside his home in Beirut. An unknown group called "Lebanese for a Free and Independent Lebanon" took credit for the killing, and was never heard from again.
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