Middle East Features
The Mideast`s most gripping murder mystery (News Feature)
By Anne-Beatrice Clasmann Sep 21, 2010, 15:21 GMT
Beirut - Five years after the assassination of Lebanese entrepreneur and political kingpin Rafik Hariri rocked the Middle East, a United Nations (UN) tribunal`s impending announcement in The Hague of charges in connection with the case could send explosive new tremors through Lebanon.
The rumbling has already started.
For days now, the political parties in Lebanon have been wrangling over the budget. In a normal democracy this would not be unusual. But in Lebanon the very peace of the nation hinges on the budgetary debate.
'Egypt is very concerned about recent developments in Lebanon,' the Egyptian foreign ministry said this week.
Understandably so, for the Lebanese government is arguing over whether the Arab nation should keep up its share of the costs for the UN tribunal in The Hague.
The tribunal has been given the mandate to determine who was behind the massive explosion in February 2005 that claimed the life of Lebanon`s one-time prime minister.
The pro-Iranian Hezbollah Shiite movement, which is part of the government, is seeking to hinder the investigation, because of speculation that, besides a number of Syrian officials, Hezbollah members could also be indicted.
Observers in Beirut even think it possible that the ringleaders behind the attack came from Tehran.
Things are consequently getting hot for Hezbollah in the build-up to the tribunal`s announcement of the indictments. Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah contends that the tribunal is 'an Israeli project' which has based its information on Israeli agents and 'false witnesses.'
Nasrallah is even said to have attempted to force Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the former leader, to call an end to cooperation with the tribunal.
But Hariri, a Sunni, has baulked at that, despite the fact that he and his team secretly fear that the results of the investigation could lead to a military confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites.
'The matter is very sensitive, but I cannot simply accept that it would be better for Lebanon for the guilty parties not to be found,' declares one of Hariri`s aides.
Yet the price of truth is high. Several alleged perpetrators and a number of people who may have known too much have died under highly mysterious circumstances in Lebanon and Syria, involving car crashes, snipers and bombs.
One of them is said to have been Hezbollah military commander Emad Mughnijah, who died in an explosion in Damascus three years ago. His brother-in-law Mustafa Badr al-Din is reportedly a suspect in the case. But there have been nothing more than rumours because UN chief prosecutor Daniel Bellemare is playing his cards close to his chest.
Antoine Zahra, a member of parliament for the Christian rightist Forces Libanaises party, is nonetheless convinced.
'Hezbollah people were the organ which carried it out and the Syrians gave the order (for Hariri`s assassination),' Zahra says.
But even Hezbollah`s opponents feel that Nasrallah himself likely knew nothing of the plot against Hariri, that it was rather 'Hezbollah elements who do not obey his commands' who killed Hariri.
'The Syrians have found a way for themselves to side-step the accusations,' says Zahra. 'They simply won`t extradite the Syrian suspects, they`ll put them before Syrian courts as traitors.'
Hezbollah and supporters of its ally, Christian General Michel Aoun, are meanwhile seeking to discredit the court in The Hague.
'The tribunal has lost its credibility,' states Aoun.
Yet just recently it had appeared that the regional powers had found a diplomatic solution which would spare Lebanon, still traumatized by the 1975-1990 civil war, fresh bloodshed.
When the tribunal issue first flared up in July, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia flew to Beirut with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in tow to seek 'an oriental means' of resolving the issue. In doing so, the aged king, who is favorably inclined towards the Hariri family, placed his entire authority in the balance.
Yet scarcely had the king departed when everyone in Beirut was at each other`s throats once more.