Hizballah's leader Hassan Nasrallah has devised a scheme that would further ramp up the risk of a major Middle East conflict. He has promised to show a news conference called for Monday, August 9, what he calls "proof" of the Israeli secret services' complicity in the five-year old assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
He is clearly engaged in a desperate bid to let Syrian President Bashar Assad's associates and, most of all, senior Hizballah security officers, off the hook for that crime by flying in the face of the evidence piled up in a long UN-sponsored investigation.
Nasrallah threw this match on crackling tinder in a speech he delivered Tuesday, Aug. 3, the day Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged in fire from the ground, using snipers, tanks, artillery and helicopters.
This did not delay him, because he has no time to lose. It is common knowledge in Beirut that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will within days instruct the government to arrest and turn over for trial one or more prominent Hizballah operative as suspects in the Hariri murder. Among them is Mustafa Badr Al-Din, one of the heads of the organization's Special Intelligence and Security arm.
As we closed this issue, Ali Akhbar Velyati, Iranian's spiritual leader Aytollah Khamenei's chief of staff, arrived unannounced in Beirut late Thursday, Aug. 5 and went straight into conference with the Hizballah leader.
Nasrallah undoubtedly asked him for Tehran's backing for the scheme to shift the guilt for the Hariri murder onto Israel. If it is granted, he will unveil his "proof," against Israel Monday and force Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri, son of the assassinated politician, to take the following steps forthwith:
Nasrallah plans to force Hariri to declare war on Israel
1. Notify UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council that the government of Lebanon is revoking the agreement they signed on March 29, 2006 establishing the International Tribunal for Lebanon to discover and prosecute those responsible for murdering Rafiq Hariri in February 2005. UN Security Council Resolution 1757 of May 30, 2007 endorsed the agreement, including the provision for the UN secretary to appoint half the judges and Lebanese judges named by Beirut to sit on the other half of the bench.
2. Refuse to enter into discussion on the matter with the UN Secretary and unilaterally withdraw the Lebanese judges from the International Court and cease payment for its maintenance, thereby dismantling the tribunal.
The prime minister will explain that Lebanon has been caught up in an emergency due to Israel's covert penetration of the country's infrastructure, particularly its telephone and communications systems.
3. Prime Minister Hariri must use Nasrallah's "evidence" as grounds to accuse Israel of his father's murder and declare war on the Jewish state.
4. The Lebanese government must present the "evidence" to the UN Security Council and demand a resolution imposing severe sanctions on Israel for its undercover agencies' "proven" involvement in the Hariri assassination.
The prime suspect is Mughniyeh's cousin, a top Hizballah officer
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report Hizballah is laying the ground for Nasrallah's "explosive revelations" by stirring Lebanese security into mounting a massive spy-hunt for alleged Israeli agents.
After the border clash with Israel last Wednesday, Lebanese security officials announced the arrest of a senior member of Hizballah's close ally, Michel Aoun's Christian Free Patriotic Movement, on suspicion of spying for Israel.
The news was a sensation in Beirut, because the detainee, Fayez Kayam is one of Aoun's closest friends.
He was the third suspect detained this week on the same charge after a high-ranking army officer and a state telecom operator employee were picked up in different security operations.
The arrests are programmed to demonstrate that Israel's clandestine agencies have seized control not only of Lebanon's intelligence services but also of its telecommunications networks, both the regular phone system and the cell phone companies.
Nasrallah cannot afford to have his plan misfire, mainly because of Mustafa al-Din's unique role in Hizballah's tight inner leadership. Since the end of 2008, he has served as its senior liaison officer with Iran. His arrest would send shock waves through the entire movement in view of his family connections as cousin and brother-in-law of the notorious Imad Mughniyeh, founder and head of Hizballah's security arm for 29 years until he was killed in Damascus in February 2008.
Badr al-Din's sister Ammana was Moughniyeh's first wife. As his widow, she shares his high standing in Hizballah as national hero.
Extracting the right "confessions" from alleged spies
Mustafa Badr al-Din was Mughniyeh's right hand in the terrorist stunts he pulled in the 1980s, including the brutal kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon, most of them Americans and Britons, and operations in the Persian Gulf region at Tehran's behest.
He served a long stretch in a Kuwait prison for leading a failed conspiracy to assassinate its ruler. Upon his return to Lebanon in the mid-1990s, he went into semi-retirement and distanced himself from his brother-in-law's nefarious activities. But when Moughniyeh died, he was drawn back by Nasrallah into top operational and intelligence positions.
The key evidence gathered against Badr Al-Din by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon consists of eight cell phones discovered at the scene of the Hariri murder and in an apartment overlooking it which housed the conspirators' forward command.
Two years of painstaking analysis of the cell phones and the lines channeling incoming and outgoing calls found them registered to Hizballah's security arm. Badr al-Din has been identified as the man issuing instructions to the perpetrators up to and in the course of the massive bombing attack which killed the former Lebanese prime minister and 22 others.
Nasrallah plans to accuse Israeli intelligence of orchestrating the Hariri assassination from a war room in Cyprus. His agents are in the process of extracting "confessions" from the latest batch of alleged spies in order to "prove" that Israeli intelligence used its control of Lebanon's telecommunications system five years ago to plant the eight incriminating cell phones at the scene of the crime and forge the records of phone calls to fix the crime on Hizballah and Badr Al-Din.
Damascus and Tehran keen to sabotage Obama's peace initiative
The Hizballah leader's plan is both devious and part of other strategies afoot in the Middle East.
He took the precaution of obtaining Syrian president Assad's support for his scheme to incriminate Israel.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report it was granted when the two met secretly in Damascus on Saturday, July 31, the day after Saudi King Abdullah's visit.
Assad made it clear that even after the king persuaded him to transfer his protection from Hassan Nasrallah to Saad Hariri (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 455 of July 31 – New US-Saudi Strategy for the Middle East: Assad Offered High Status in Beirut and Baghdad for Dumping Tehran and Hizballah), this change did not affect matters related to Israel.
It is strongly suspected in Washington and Jerusalem that the flare-ups this past week, starting with the Grad missile fired at Ashkelon by Hamas and culminating in the Lebanese-Israel cross-border clash, may have been orchestrated from Tehran and Damascus, with Hizballah playing along, for the purpose of sabotaging President Barack Obama's efforts to bring about direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Two of Israel's borders are still seething with tension
Israel responded to the Hamas attack on Ashkelon the next day, Saturday, July 31, by bombing several locations in the Gaza Strip. August 2, Hamas hit back by shooting six Grad missiles from Egyptian Sinai at Eilat and hitting Jordanian Aqaba instead.
(More about these attacks in HOT POINTS below.)
Within 24 hours, the central sector of the Lebanese border was ablaze after a local Shiite battalion commander told his men to start shooting at Israel soldiers across the border – contrary to orders from the Lebanese army's high command in Beirut.
The situation on two of Israel's borders is still seething with tension.
The Israeli government refuses to let the death of a high officer from Lebanese cross-border fire go unpunished. Beirut has been given an ultimatum to dismiss or court-martial the Lebanese officer who set the border on fire without delay, or resign itself to the entire Lebanese army being treated as an enemy and its border positions wiped out.
The Hariri government has five days to comply. Monday, Nasrallah plans to launch his bid to pin the Hariri murder on Israel's intelligence service. This is seen – and not only in Israel – as a dangerous fantasy with the potential for tipping the region into multilateral violence.
Furthermore, the Netanyahu government has yet to settle the score with Hamas for the missile fire on Eilat.