Commentary

Hezbollah Members Indicted by International Criminal Tribunal

Middle East In Focus

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Lebanon is once again in the news as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued indictments for four individuals suspected to have participated in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

According to the Lebanese news website Naharnet, “The tribunal, based near The Hague, has handed Lebanese Prosecutor General Saeed Mirza arrest warrants for four Lebanese but did not disclose their identities. Leaks had been made to the press in recent years over the names of those implicated, with LBC television network reporting the four were members of Hizbullah. Among the four is Mustafa Badreddine, brother-in-law of top operative Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a 2008 bombing in Damascus, according to LBC. Badreddine was said to have supervised the Hariri assassination. He had previously been arrested in Kuwait for planning to bomb the U.S. embassy, LBC reported. Salim Ayyash, a Hizbullah member who holds U.S. citizenship and headed the cell that carried out the bombing, is also among the suspects, according to LBC. The other two members reportedly are Hassan Aneissy, known as Hassan Issa, and Assad Sabra.”

The timing of the indictment comes at a delicate time for the country’s prime minister, Najib Mikati, who took over with the support of Hezbollah after the collapse of the previous government headed by Saad Hariri and insisted on cooperation with the Tribunal. It came as no surprise, then, that PM Miqati’s statement following news of the indictment was vague and offered little hope for cooperation. A report by the Hezbollah-supported al-Manar news website underlined remarks made by the prime minister, asserting, “We should act responsibly with the event. No matter what the source of these indictments is, these are not verdicts, and accusations require solid evidence that includes no doubt. The accused is innocent until proven guilty.”

Hezbollah itself has yet to make its views known on the matter, although a statement released on the same website said, “Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah is to announce on Saturday the party’s stance on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) indictment. According to a statement released by Hezbollah’s media relations, the Secretary General will deliver a live speech on al-Manar Television on Saturday July 2 at 8:30 p.m.”

Still, it will come as no surprise to observers in the region that Hezbollah will issue a clear repudiation of the claims made in the indictment. In fact Hezbollah has in the past pointed the finger at Lebanon’s neighbor Israel as the real culprit behind the assassination. Iranian Press TV recently remarked in reaction to the news, “Hezbollah has strictly rejected any involvement in the incident and called the tribunal an “American-Israeli project.” In an August 2010 public speech, Hezbollah's Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah presented evidence proving that Israel had been behind the assassination. Nasrallah's televised address featured video footage taken by Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as recorded confessions by Israeli fifth columnists, substantiating that Tel Aviv had masterminded the killing. Damascus has likewise denied any role and released similar evidence exposing Tel Aviv's fingerprint.”

The Lebanese Daily Star also presents a preview of Hezbollah’s position: “State Minister for Administrative Affairs and Hezbollah member Mohammad Fneish, speaking to a local radio station during a break from talks at Baabda Palace, said: ‘When we see the [STL] indictment, we will comment on it.’ Earlier Thursday, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said, ‘nothing will happen after the indictment is issued.’ ‘Why the big deal? It’s just an indictment and not a final verdict. So why all this hubbub?’ he asked.”

In the same article, politicians coming from other parts of Lebanon’s factious political system emphasize their relief at what may be the beginning of the end of a difficult and trying period:  “Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea urged lawmakers to look at the suspects in the STL indictment as individuals accused of a crime, rather than affiliating them with their party, religion or country…. Future Movement official Mustafa Alloush told The Daily Star that ‘it would have been strange if an indictment was issued without containing Hezbollah names.’”

The Lebanese National News Agency, on the other hand, cites the head of the “Future” bloc, Fouad Siniora, who “considered [that with] the issuance of the indictment by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, an era of killing and impunity comes to an end, saying that the Tribunal took a step towards consecrating rights and justice and contributes in putting a limit to the assassination crimes that have intimidated Lebanon's political life and the profound meaning of the State and liberties.... Siniora underlined that what has been issued today (Thursday) is an indictment rather than a verdict, and entails neither a group nor a sect. Siniora said the Lebanese government should respect Tribunal decisions and cooperate with it in implementing its resolutions and measures.”

For the country’s main newspaper, The Daily Star, the editorial message is that, regardless of the outcome, there can be no half measures: “One welcome consequence of the indictment’s delivery is that the government, finally, has a policy statement…. The government can at last now get on with what it was mandated to do: run the country.... Active cooperation is needed if Lebanon is to uphold its STL commitment. There is no half measure to be had; an obligation made to justice should bear no regard to the political climate and should take less notice of incendiary intimidation by those opposed to the court.... Another positive, post-indictment, is that those promised scenes of sectarian fighting have, so far, failed to materialize. This demonstrates a maturity and pragmatism from the Lebanese populace. It is to be hoped that such expediency is reciprocated by its government.”

Yet, as The National’s Ferry Biedermann is quick to point out, “The sticking point had been the new government's attitude towards the tribunal, as Mr. Mikati insisted that Lebanon abide by international agreements. In the end, the statement was left deliberately vague, saying that ‘the government confirms that it will follow the progress of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was set up in principle to see justice served in a manner that is neither politicized nor vengeful, as long as it does not negatively affect Lebanon's stability and civil peace.’”

 


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