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Dr. Josef Olmert

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The Hariri Inquiry: Lebanon, Hezbollah, Syria

Posted: 06/30/11 12:18 PM ET

The UN can claim a small victory, as finally the International Court of Justice in The Hague formally indicted four senior Hezbollah officials and military commanders in connection with the murder of Lebanon's Sunni Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 20 others in February 2005. The long wait is over, what was clear for years, became now formal; the Shi'ite terroristic Hezbollah, claiming to be Lebanon's guardian against alleged Israeli Aggression committed a murder of a Sunni leader, who was a proud Lebanese patriot, thus proving its sectarian character.

Clearly, the murder was ordered by the highest echelons of Hezbollah, leading all the way to the chief leader, Sheikh Nasrallah. The former is hiding in a bunker somewhere in South Beirut, from where he has conducted a war of nerves against the International Court, his Lebanese adversaries from the Sunni community and Israel. In a particularly pathetic statement from 9 August 2010, the hidden Sheikh claimed that Israel was implicated in the assassination of Hariri. This typical attempt to deflect the guilt towards the ''little Satan'', Israel, was a bad joke then, and a farce now, in light of the formal indictments. Nasrallah is required now to make a crucial decision, should he comply with the indictments and hand over his men to the International Court ,or stick with his pledge never to do so. The stakes are high, and the choice is painful.

If Lebanon were a normal country, where government and the judicial system are in full control, the question would be irrelevant, but then Lebanon is what it is, a country traumatized by a long history of sectarian civil war, which means that every important decision of its government is determined by the fear that it could ignite another round of that war. Moreover, the current government is led by Hezbollah and its allies. Under these circumstances, Nasrallah can and will dictate the decision, but will not be able to deny his and his organization's direct responsibility for the inevitable outcome. A refusal to comply with the International court will lead to a mayhem in Lebanon, as well as to potential international pressures and possible sanctions. Hezbollah can try and provoke troubles with Israel, but the likelihood is low, as Nasrallah will not put in danger the very existence of his organization. On top of that, the Lebanese public at large will realize the real rational for triggering troubles with Israel. Hezbollah will simply prove that they work in the service of foreign, not Lebanese interests.


The mayhem in the offing will revolve around the reactions of the Sunni population
In Lebanon. More than a hint was provided by Sa'ad Hariri, the son of Rafiq and the former PM of Lebanon. The young Hariri is in self imposed exile in Paris, fearing for his life after an alleged assassination attempt. It is not so difficult to guess who can be behind this attempt and other threats on his life. However, Hariri issued a message to his supporters , telling them that justice is finally being done, and that those responsible for his father's murder will not be able to escape their due punishment. His supporters understand the coded message, and they are sure to make their voice heard and quickly. In Lebanese terms it means, that violence is behind the corner.

And what about Syria? The Assad regime is not yet mentioned in the indictments, but the final word has not been said. The first head of the international inquiry, Detlev Mehlis from Germany publicly said that the Hezbollah acted as the sub-contractor of the Syrians. The Syrian Interior Minister General Ghazi Kana'an, the strongman of Assad in Lebanon committed suicide in October 2005, after allegations surfaced in Lebanon that he was behind Hariri's assassination. According to some reports , the Assad regime got rid of the ill-fated General, before his full complicity became known. Be that as it may, the Assad regime does not really need the added headache from the unfolding Hariri report. A former Syrian dictator, Adib Shishakli once remarked that when Syria's adversaries in Lebanon sneeze, the government in Damascus gets pneumonia...this was very true in the 1950s , and not less so now, as the Assad regime fights for its life against its Sunni opponents, who finally managed to have their voice heard also in Aleppo, a mainly-Sunni city, the second largest in Syria.

The UN started a process today. It is yet to be determined if it can bring it to an end. The answer to that question will have major bearing on the future of Lebanon and possibly that of Syria.