Unless they are laying a false trail, Hizballah and Iran have pulled back from their plot to seize power in Beirut (a plan reported step by step in former DEBKA-Net-Weekly issues). They have decided to abandon a violent takeover, even if the Special Tribunal for Lebanon does indeed publish indictments against high Hizballah security officials for complicity in the five-year old assassination of Rafiq Hariri – or even against certain Al Qods Brigades officers.
Our sources now report that the government headed by the dead Lebanese leader's son Saad Hariri may have won a last-minute reprieve from a coup attempt and Lebanon has been saved from civil war. The danger of a Hizballah-Israeli confrontation has similarly receded, although it has not disappeared.
For now, the Lebanese Shiite group's leaders have other fish to fry.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources have picked up the trail of Hizballah representatives in London, going around eminent lawyers' offices in search of legal counsel to defend the organization's high officials when they are summoned to appear before the STL in The Hague.
A bizarre spectacle unfolded to their secret watchers. They saw Hizballah strong-arm chiefs like Wafiq Safa going in and out of the posh offices of high-priced London lawyers and carried around the city in flashy limousines.
Defending counsel for tribunal appearance picked in London
According to our sources, Hassan Nasrallah, Hizballah's secretary general, has already picked the defending counsel he wants from the material sent him from London. This means he has finally dropped his plans to force the Hariri government to invalidate the tribunal or be forced out and is now cooperating with the court and its investigation.
It was one of the hardest decisions Nasrallah has had to take since he resolved to go to war with Israel in the summer of 2006. He will need to surrender between seven and nine of his top security and intelligence officials, the mainstay of his strength, to international justice, and may even lose them in the long term if the tribunal issues international warrants for their arrest.
However, our intelligence sources stress he had no choice, given the following circumstances:
1. The rise of the hawkish faction in the Saudi royal house (see separate item in this issue) and its departure from King Abdullah's policy of conciliation and compromise among Arab and Muslim contestants.
The king's son Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah has exited Damascus, so removing the ladder from under the Saudi effort to avert an armed conflict in Lebanon by bending the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Iranian-Syrian domination.
2. The discovery by Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin Bin Abdul Aziz that Damascus and Tehran were secretly arguing over Hizballah finally clinched Riyadh's decision to terminate the king's plans for Lebanon.
The Syrian-Iranian alliance cracked by Hizballah dispute
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources reveal what the argument is about. Both Tehran and Damascus are keen on strengthening Hizballah, but Damascus wants the Lebanese Shiite militia to be equally dependent on them both. Syrian President Bashar Assad aims to loosen Hizballah's ties with Iran – not as it is presumed in Washington to undermine Iran's influence in Damascus and Beirut, but to force the ayatollahs to treat the Assad regime as an equal partner in the making of policies and decisions with regard to Lebanon and Hizballah.
The upshot of this dispute is a crack in the wall of the Iranian-Syrian alliance, which Prince Muqrin fully intends to exploit.
3. In the light of these changing trends, Riyadh told Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri it was time for a radical change in tactics. Whereas until early December, King Abdullah and his emissaries were telling him to surrender to the demands of Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah, he has now been advised to rebuff Assad and Hizballah. He can safely spurn their demands now that he is assured of full Saudi backing for his policies, intelligence assistance and financial aid.
4. The latest piece of intelligence delivered to Hariri last week was that the Syrian president had made it plain of late that he is withdrawing from Hizballah's war against the Hariri tribunal and has dropped his schemes for pre-empting the indictments against its officials.
This decision ends years of full Syrian military and security backing for the Lebanese group. No wonder, Hizballah is casting about urgently in London for top-notch defense council.