Analysis: Lieberman jumps the gun

FM's call to arrest Nasrallah over Hariri murder probe is premature.

lieberman thinking 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
lieberman thinking 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel's foreign minister jumped the gun in calling for the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to issue an international warrant for the arrest of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in connection with the assassination of former Lebanese President Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005. In a statement made Sunday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, "To the best of my understanding, if this is the conclusion of the investigators, an arrest warrant must be issued immediately. If it is not, he must be forcibly arrested and brought to the International Court of Justice." However, all we know so far is that the German magazine Der Spiegel has reported that tribunal investigators believe special Hizbullah forces planned and executed the car bomb attack that killed Hariri, his bodyguards and a large number of passersby. No word has been forthcoming from the prosecutor's office so far to confirm or deny the report. If it indeed turns out that the report is true and the prosecutor intends to indict Hizbullah officials for the crime, the statute of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) makes clear what the next steps would be. A pretrial judge - one of eight regular judges and two substitute judges comprising the tribunal chamber - will review the indictment. Depending on whether the judge believes the prosecutor has established a prima facie case, he is empowered to confirm or dismiss the indictment. If the pretrial judge accepts the prosecutor's arguments, the Special Tribunal will issue warrants for the arrest of all the named suspects and the trial will be conducted before a panel of three judges, two of them international and one Lebanese. The losing side may appeal to a five-judge appeals court headed by the president of the Tribunal, Antonio Cassese and including three international judges and two Lebanese ones. Although Lebanon has a death penalty, the statute of the Special Tribunal calls for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of the crime. As one can see from the UN statute on the STL, there is no need for Israel to make declarations as to what the tribunal should do. The statute is clear and is the outcome of a fierce determination on the part of the UN Security Council to get to the bottom of the Hariri killing. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, the ICC most likely would not have jurisdiction over the case if Hizbullah was responsible, since it would then be an internal crime rather than an international crime. An ICC prosecutor would also be hard-pressed to describe it as a crime against humanity or a war crime, which are within the mandate of the ICC.