Hezbollah: A contract killer

Now that the tribunal implicated Hezbollah in the Hariri assassination, Nasrallah is bound to receive a mark of Cain for undermining Lebanese national interests.

By YORAM SCHWEITZER, GILAD STERN
July 2, 2011 22:54
3 minute read.
Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah

Nasrallah 311reuters. (photo credit: reuters)

 
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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.

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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 Hariri’s murder.

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 informants.

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 it.

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.

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