Hezbollah’s public defiance will do little to halt tribunal findings

Neither Hariri’s blood nor his legacy will be washed away by the likes of Nasrallah and his Syrian allies.
Sunday 02/09/2018
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri speaks during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the assassination of his father. (AP)
Still watching. Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri speaks during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the assassination of his father. (AP)

Most Lebanese over the age of 18 can recall precisely where they were at 12.55pm, February 14, 2005. This is not entirely due to the huge explosion that ripped through Beirut but because that was the moment when larger-than-life former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed.

Hariri was not simply a Lebanese politician nor was he one of the traditional sectarian chieftains who commanded a militia throughout the Lebanese civil war (1975-90). The son of a citrus farmer from the southern city of Sidon and a self-made billionaire, Hariri was the central figure within Lebanon’s post-war reconstruction and the public face of the country’s international resurgence after years of bloodshed and destruction.

Lebanon has still not recovered from his assassination, with the state incapable of developing either a serviceable infrastructure or reversing its failing economy.

Hariri’s killers are yet to be brought to justice by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), an international judicial body established in 2009 by the United Nations.

Much of the STL’s ineffectiveness lies in its mandate and endlessly protracted operating procedures. Yet, despite those obstacles, the STL is to shortly enter its closing stages, after which the court will deliberate and issue a verdict within the next few months.

Under normal circumstances, this run-of-the-mill judicial sequence could be expected to bring nothing but relief to a public troubled by Hariri’s death. However, in this case, the main suspects in the assassination are high-ranking members of Hezbollah’s elite special operations unit and that changes everything.

This is among the factors that have led to Hezbollah taking a very aggressive stance towards the STL, accusing it of implementing a Western, Zionist agenda far removed from the justice it was supposed to serve.

In principle, the mandate of the STL restricts its jurisdiction to individuals. Consequently, no political entity or state can be implicated. Nevertheless, Hezbollah stands accused in the court of public opinion of Hariri’s death, an accusation bolstered by tangible evidence in the case.

In his most recent televised speech, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah accused Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri’s son, of using the tribunal to influence the shape of the government he has been attempting to form since May.

Using a belligerent tone, Nasrallah proclaimed the tribunal’s verdict would “not mean anything to us at all and its rulings are of no value, regardless of whether they are condemnation or acquittal rulings.”

Nasrallah warned that anyone hoping the STL verdict would carry long-term consequences for Lebanon’s political future could be “playing with fire.”

Nasrallah’s protestations run counter to the facts, which stand to further divide Hezbollah and the Sunni constituency. Contrary to what Nasrallah is peddling, the formation of the government has stalled, not because of the STL, but because Hariri is refusing to relinquish his veto and allow Hezbollah and its main Christian ally, President Michel Aoun, to normalise relations with the Assad regime in Syria.

Additionally, the Free Patriotic Movement, under the leadership of Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, has refused any compromise, further frustrating Hariri’s efforts to form a government.

More important, while Hezbollah might claim it does not care about the STL and its findings, the Lebanese at large genuinely do. Across Lebanon, there is a sincere thirst for justice and closure for their slain prime minister, not merely because they want to cherish his memory but because justice in Hariri’s case might protect them from a similar fate.

The Lebanese, largely against their will, have adjusted to the presence of this Iran-imposed militia. Nasrallah, by intimidating the Lebanese into denying Rafik Hariri justice, is the one who is playing with fire, a sectarian fire that, if unleashed, would not stop burning until it devoured Lebanon and its self-appointed protectors.

No one is under any illusion that the tribunal’s verdict would translate into actual arrests or that Nasrallah will hand the perpetrators to authorities. What is certain is that neither Hariri’s blood nor his legacy will be washed away by the likes of Nasrallah and his Syrian allies.

A 1,000-kilogram bomb might have silenced Rafik Hariri in 2005 but it will not stop the Lebanese from hearing the verdict of the STL, a verdict that will expose the wolves in sheep’s clothing that lurk in our midst.