Hizballah’s 11th-hour pullback from siege of UN sites and troops
With minutes to spare, Wednesday night, Jan. 19, Hizballah called off its plan to hold to siege UN buildings in Beirut and their staff of 1,000, as a show of strength in the face of the threatened UN Hariri tribunal's indictment of its high officials for the Hariri assassination six years ago. debkafile's military sources report.
The sites targeted were the offices of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia which Hizballah militiamen were ordered to seal against ingress and egress, while its armed units were to encircle and pin down UNIFIL patrols in South Lebanon and cut off isolated UN outposts and lookout posts.
Hizballah also planned to besiege the offices of the UN's Special Lebanon Emissary Michael Williams, UNWRA which deals with Palestinian refugees and various UNIFIL contact offices in Beirut.
This desperate action was planned to blackmail UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon into discussing the reassessment of the STL's indictment of Hizballah's security and intelligence chiefs for the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
According to our sources, at 1800 hours Lebanese time, as Hizballah forces were about to set out on their missions, they received an order from their leader, Hassan Nasrallah to hold their horses for now. He offered no explanation for the postponement but, according to some sources, he was deterred by being informed of consequences of this act. Ban would have asked the Lebanese government to send troops to relieve the Hizballah siege on UN institutions, failing which he would have called on the UN Security Council to send armed units to Beirut to rescue the beleaguered UN staffers.
This step might well have ended in US, French and German marines lifting of the warships opposite Lebanese shores and landing in Beirut.
A day earlier, on Tuesday, militiamen of the Shiite Hizballah and Amal movements, unarmed and clad in black uniforms, took up positions in seven quarters of the capital, to prove the Shiites capable of capturing Beirut. They were withdrawn that night after making the point.
That was the Lebanese Shiites' concerted response to the gauntlet thrown down Monday by the Special Lebanon Court probing the 2005 Hariri murder, as reported earlier by debkafile.
The Special Lebanon Court registrar Herman von Hebel announced Tuesday, Jan. 18 that if things go well, "we may see the start of the trial toward September/October … with or without an accused." A day earlier, the STL prosecutor Daniel Bellemare submitted his draft indictment to the pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen in The Hague, thereby establishing three facts in the case of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
1. An approximate date has been set for the trial to begin, irrespective of the extreme upsets in Lebanon over the case.
2. The prosecution file includes names of accused individuals, members of Hizballah, who will be summoned to appear before the UN court. Bellemare stated in a video clip Tuesday that the accused he cited are presumed innocent even after they are confirmed by the judge – until the prosecution proves their guilt beyond reasonable doubt in court.
3. Any of the accused defying the court summons will be tried in absentia as debkafile reportedly exclusively first in its weekly edition on Dec. 24, 2010 and again in daily debkafile on Jan. 13.
(Click here for second report.)
The registrar also stated Tuesday: "The pretrial judge is very keen to move the process forward as fast as possible."
This means that Fransen will make an effort to hand down his decision on the indictments within 6-10 weeks, much earlier than the several months originally reported, according to debkafile's sources. The court realizes that the longer the court process, the deeper Lebanon will sink into crisis.
Von Hebel also referred to the joint effort Syrian president Bashar Assad, Turkish premier Recep Erdogan and the Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani were making in Beirut for a compromise that would free the Lebanese government of its commitment to honor the international tribunal's warrants and contribute to its funding. The registrar said: "We know for sure it is not easy to get accused persons arrested. The problem with international tribunals is that they do not have a police force. We are dependent on the cooperation of states."
He then remarked: "The tribunal's budget is $65.7 million for 2011 should not be affected by the collapse of the Lebanese government which is obliged to pay 49 percent. The obligation is for the state, not a government."
That comment is the key to the dispute – both over the tribunal's funding and its legitimacy which Hizballah challenges by refusing to hand over its officials for trial.
Von Hebel, the tribunal's registrar. made it clear that the Lebanese state, not its government, will be held accountable for upholding the UN court's decrees. In other words, the effort engineered from Tehran and Damascus to replace the Hariri government with an alternative will not get Hizballah off the hook. Indeed any administration in Beirut that defies the court lays Lebanon open to a complaint to the UN Security Council by the UN tribunal's judges and a demand for sanctions pending compliance.