Another ticking bomb for Assad: Hariri Tribunal
The Lebanese capital was only the first stop for a delegation of the UN-backed Special Tribal for Lebanon investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Thursday, June 30, the group arrived in Beirut and presented four arrest warrants against top Hizballah officers. Its next destination may eventually be Damascus for the submission of a second batch of warrants against Syrian officials suspected of controlling the Hizballah hit-team in the commission of the murder.
The Lebanese authorities were given 30 days to execute the arrest warrants. Hizballah has offered no response to the indictments but security has been reinforced on the streets of Beirut.
The three wanted Hizballah operatives have been named as Sami Issa and Salim Ayyash, top officers of Hizballah's security apparatus and close associates of the organization's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, and Mustafa Badreddine, a relative of its late commander, Imad Moughniyeh who died in a bombing attack in Damascus. The fourth is unknown.
debkafile's counter-terror sources report the Syrian officials most often mentioned as wanted by the tribunal are Gen. Asif Showqat, brother-in-law of President Bashar Assad, former chief of Syrian military intelligence and currently Syrian chief of staff; and Rostom Ghazale, the Syrian strongman behind the Lebanese government at the time of the murder. Today, he is Assad's personal arm in suppressing the uprising against his regime in southern and eastern Syria.
For six years, Lebanon has limped from one political crisis to another under the polarizing shadow cast by the assassination of Lebanon's leading Sunni politician, Rafiq Hariri along with 23 other victims.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was established to probe the crime and establish guilt, so closing the books on an assassination whose repercussions spread far and wide up until the present day. The court's investigations have been fought every step of the way by Hizballah, Syria and Iran.
The pro-Western government led by his son, Saad Hariri was overthrown last January after he refused to renounce the court. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei then stepped in on behalf of the Shiite Hizballah, Tehran's proxy. He ruled any STL indictment "null and void" as the work of a tool of the West and Israel for discrediting Hizballah and breaking up the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah alliance.
Tehran and Damascus then joined hands to replace the Hariri government with a puppet regime headed by Hizballah's nominee Najib Miqati. After six months of wrangling, he managed earlier this month to form a "unity" government which put Hizballah and its Iranian and Syrian backers firmly in the saddle.
Saad Hariri opted to stay in opposition.
After the tribunal's sealed indictment was submitted Thursday to Lebanon's prosecutor general, Miqati gave a news conference in which he clearly played for time to avoid obeying the arrest warrants and extraditing the four Hizballah suspects to Holland.
There was no final word yet on who killed the former prime minister, Miqati declared: "The indictments are not verdicts," he said, and all suspects are innocent until proved guilty.
However a great deal of water has passed under Middle East bridges since Miqati was picked for the task of invalidating the international tribunal. Today, the "Arab Spring" is venting its fury in Syria, leaving Tehran's closest ally, Bashar Assad, hanging onto power by a thread in his own country.
Amid the storm of protest against his regime, the Syrian ruler may decide to bar the STL team's entry to Damascus and so dodge an indictment inculpating his henchmen as the prime movers in the Hariri murder, a step that would reduce Hizballah to the role of accessories.
The impact of this turn of events on Assad's already shaky regime would be explosive, say debkafile's Middle East and military sources – on a par with the Hariri assassination's destabilizing effect on Lebanon in the past six years.
If, as expected, Damascus and Beirut flout the tribunal's indictments and refuse to extradite the suspects and witnesses named therein, they will lay themselves open to the court's application to the UN Security Council for sanctions against both their governments to enforce their compliance.
Neither Russia nor China will have grounds for voting against such motions without appearing to support state-sponsored terrorism and political assassination.
Therefore, if Assad is not toppled by his own people, he and his close family and helpers may find themselves in the dock on both those charges. One way or another, he appears to be heading to join the list of Arab rulers targeted by the US and Europe for removal.