Tensions rise in Lebanon over possible Hizbollah involvement in Hariri assassination
Polarisation got a boost last week when Hizbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech that the STL was politicised, and that the evidence it collected was worthless because Lebanon’s telephone system was infiltrated by Israeli agents, a charge that elicited a negative response from the 14 March Alliance, Lebanon’s ruling coalition that includes the Future Movement of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Lebanese Forces of Samir Geagea. In reacting, the latter accused Hizbollah of plotting a coup d’état.
Since then, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has tried to calm the situation by summoning leaders from all the parties included in the National Dialogue Roundtable, an advisory body that discusses the major issues facing the country.
Is reconciliation still possible? Not if we go by Hassan Nasrallah’s virulent attack against the STL.
It might be surprising to see Hizbollah attack indictments that have not yet been made public. However, the ‘Party of God’ is quite conscious that it stands accused.
In the past few months, some of its members have been interrogated as witnesses. But, according to some leaks that appeared in Lebanese and international media, especially Spiegel and Le Figaro, some its leaders are expected to be indicted, including Abd al-Majid Ghamlush, a Hizbollah operative at the centre of mobile phone communications in the minutes and seconds leading up to the car bomb blast that killed Hariri. On the other hand, leaked information published by Spiegel would clear Syria from complicity in the attack.
At last, Hassan Nasrallah’s speech would put an end to the political truce reached at Doha, which eventually led to the consensual elections of President Suleiman. His “speech signs Doha’s death warrant,” said the secretary of the 14 March Alliance.
Open confrontation will thus define Lebanon’s competing visions, the one born out of the 14 March movement that emerged in the wake of the Hariri assassination, and that of Hizbollah.
Could Doha’s demise also mean the end of Michel Suleiman’s presidency? It all depends on what Hizbollah will do. Will its leader turn his words into action? That is the crux of the matter. This Sunday, Nasrallah is expected to deliver another speech, then, we shall know.
In any event, the Doha spirit had already started to fall apart before Nasrallah’s outburst. Consensus politics was already faltering when a security agreement with France was rejected and attempts were made to restrain the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). After all, no one can play the fiddle for two masters, Tehran and Washington, at the same time.
Evidently, the situation shows how much Lebanon has neither the means nor the desire to follow a non-aligned foreign policy. It also shows the limits of France’s influence in the region.
What does President Nicolas Sarkozy feel in regards to his attempts to reach out to hardliners like Damascus and Tehran? And his efforts to bring Syria in from the cold of its international isolation, antagonising Washington sometimes? Or the continuing absence of the new US ambassador to Syria? An initial response can be read in the statements of France’s ambassador to Lebanon who recently said that attacks by civilians against UNIFIL forces are “unacceptable”.
For Samir Franjieh, an old hand at Lebanese politics, Hizbollah’s great nervousness these days reflects Syria’s shifting regional alliances, and its move away from the ‘Party of God’.
A recent picture showing Syrian President Bashir al-Assad with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will soon replace the picture in which he is seen in the company of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Hizbollah’s Nasrallah.
In fact, the understanding between Assad and Hariri, brokered by Saudi Arabia behind the scene, is seen “as a major turning point in the relations between Syria and Lebanon”.
Sources close to Syria have challenged this analysis of the situation, arguing instead that the Syrian president told the prime minister that any “charge laid by the STL against Hizbollah will be deemed a direct attack against Syria.”