Coming ME flashpoint: Hizballah faces terror charges at Hariri tribunal
Special Lebanese Tribunal Pre-Trial Judge Daniel Fransen asked the court to define crimes of terrorism, conspiracy and premeditated murder when the tribunal held its first hearing Monday, Feb. 7. Another of his 15 questions was: Under which law should these definitions be made – Lebanese or international or both?
debkafile's intelligence sources report that within days, Judge Fransen is scheduled to publish indictments based on the findings of Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare's probe of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minster Rafiq Hariri in 2005.
The court's accelerated schedule and the gravity of its charges have caught the primary suspects, big shots of the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah, unprepared. They face being convicted as international criminals on charges of terrorism, conspiracy and premeditated murder. There is not much they can do but openly flout the court's expected summons for their extradition by force of arms. With no end of the Egyptian standoff in sight, therefore, a showdown in Lebanon looms large.
The international judges jumped the gun not only for Hizballah but also for its bosses in Damascus and Tehran and even up to a point for Washington, which has supported the court's work but had hoped indictments would not be ready for some months. The last thing the Obama administration needs at this moment is a second Middle East bonfire.
But whether they like it or not, the Special Tribunal got down to its first hearing in Leidschendam near The Hague Monday, Feb. 7. The first session withheld the names of individuals contained in the sealed indictment document Bellemare filed with Fransen on Jan. 17. This and future sessions will be held in public, so the full list of accused may be only be a week or ten days away from release.
This finds the plan carefully crafted by Iran, Syria and Hizballah to make sure that that point was never reached coming apart at the seams: They managed to get rid of pro-Western Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and replace him with Najib Miqati, friend to Hizballah and Syrian leaders, whose first task was to have been to disqualify the STL, nullify its indictments and sever ties with the tribunal. But their handpicked candidate for prime minister has not managed to form a government because of three obstacles:
1. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman insists he will only endorse a national unity administration, which would necessitate the participation of Saad Hariri's March 14 bloc.
2. Suleiman wants a March 14 candidate – not a Miqati man – appointed Interior Minister to head the most powerful government department which holds the levers of the national domestic security and intelligence services and is authorized to declare a national state of emergency.
3. Miqati is not eager to head a narrow-based government either, because it would expose him as a Syrian-Hizballah rubber stamp and he would be ostracized by the United States and much of the West.
The Iran-Syrian-Hizballah alliance has consequently lost its race to beat the international Hariri tribunal to the draw. The court has not only outpaced Hizballah, it promises landmark decisions on the most incendiary issues of the day, definitions of terrorism and such questions as cumulative charges in cases of conspiracy.
Hizballah may still cast about for a fast worker to take over from Migati and rush a new government through – or, alternatively, exercise force to seize control of Beirut and government institutions and establish an alternative "Free Lebanon" administration to sever ties with the STL.
These options are fraught with the threat of civil violence.