Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Lebanese Situation

Michael Young discusses the ramifications of the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri by a special investigator sent by the U.N. Security Council. I think most people, including the Lebanese, just assumed Syria was behind it.

But the investigator, Detlev Mehlis, has been a bulldog, and may link the murder to the Assad family, or Hizbullah:
What many Lebanese fear is that Mehlis might also implicate Hizbullah. There is nothing implying the party played a role in the Hariri assassination (though press reports mentioned that the UN team had asked for detailed maps of areas around the Palestinian camps in Beirut's southern suburbs, where Hizbullah holds sway). Some analysts hint the finger pointing may be manipulation, perhaps by the fearful Lahoud camp, to derail full disclosure in the inquiry, since involvement of the Shiite Hizbullah in the death of a Sunni politician raises the prospect of communal conflict. But few are especially sanguine.
There were almost certainly Lebanese officials involved as well.

Why is this worth noting?
It is ever more obvious that Lebanon's courts, given the country's political divisions and weaknesses, do not have the means to bring anyone to justice; nor its security agencies the wherewithal to protect witnesses, particularly if Syrian involvement is confirmed. This has led to growing speculation, buttressed by statements from Lebanon's prime minister, Fouad al-Siniora, that a special international tribunal might become necessary to act against the guilty. This would deeply alarm the Syrian regime (again, if Mehlis does find a Syrian connection), as it means Syria would become even more of an international pariah than it already is. That Assad could politically survive such pressure is doubtful.

In the coming weeks, we will know whether the Mehlis inquiry produces the "earthquake" that many have predicted it will. For the moment, the Lebanese are holding their breath fearing the Syrian backlash, but also hoping that Hizbullah is innocent, so that Sunni-Shiite tension can be averted. Everyone is anxiously aware that the truth may be painful.


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