On Tuesday, November 16, Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri was in Moscow. After having his smiling picture taken with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, he announced that Moscow had agreed to supply Lebanon free of charge with helicopters, tanks and other weapons (six Mi-24 helicopters; thirty-one T-72 tanks and thirty-six 133mm artillery guns).
This Russian gift carried no real political or military heft; it was no more than a gesture to lift the spirits of the downcast and beleaguered Lebanese leader; no Russian-Lebanese arms deals in the past have ever been executed. In any case, after 24 hours, Hariri found himself home and face-to-face again with the bitter predicament presented by Hizballah's threat to his government if the international Hariri tribunal was permitted to indict the Shiite organization's officials.
When he landed, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Beirut report the Lebanese prime minister took an urgent phone call from Saudi King Abdullah's bureau in Riyadh, telling him to make immediate telephone contact with Syrian President Bashar Assad. A senior Saudi emissary was at that moment in Damascus, conferring with President Assad on a plan to save Lebanon from civil war. For the Saudi mission to succeed, it was necessary for Hariri to iron out the misunderstandings that had sprung up between him and President Assad. The Saudi official said that since Lebanese President Michel Suleiman paid his respects the Syrian president in Damascus Tuesday, it was now Hariri's turn to make contact.
Conscious that Suleiman had gone to Damascus against his ill, Hariri hesitated to make the call, knowing it would mean caving in to Assad's terms. They last spoke three weeks ago and the Syrian president had hung up on him after he refused to accept dictated terms. Since then, they had not talked.
While Hariri spoke to his associates of a rift with Assad, informed circles in Beirut recognized the reality of a Syrian boycott.
Assad dictates terms, Hariri caves in
Eventually, when Hariri picked up the phone and called Assad, they spoke for 20 minutes.
Our sources report that the Syrian ruler had described the Saudi emissary as sitting right beside him with a five-part plan for solving the Lebanese crisis. It required Hariri to declare as Lebanese Prime Minister on a date to be determined by Assad, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah and himself that neither Hizballah nor any of its officials had any connection to the assassination of his father, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, in February 2005. Therefore any such indictments issued by the UN Special Tribunal-STL investigating the murder, would not be recognized by the Lebanese government and have no legal standing.
Hariri must also pledge not to execute the extradition warrant of any Lebanese citizen to the Tribunal's seat in The Hague.
Another part of the Saudi plan called for the issue of false witnesses to be referred to the ordinary Lebanese judiciary. If the content of the indictment expanded the false testimony issue, the government would send the material to the Judicial Council for a decision.
On the assumption that all the parties in Lebanon agreed to those provisions, the last section of the Saudi plan called for Hariri and Nasrallah to meet and join forces for the sake of national unity and conciliation. Their meeting would confirm the plan as an instrument for putting to rest the discord stirred by the Tribunal's indictments.
Hariri was advised to cap the occasion by lauding the role of the Resistance (Hizballah's term for aggression against Israel) as Lebanon's liberator and defender against Israeli belligerence.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Beirut sources report that the Lebanese prime minister informed the Syrian president that he accepted the Saudi plan and would adhere to its provisions.
He is "rewarded" with an invitation to Tehran
Shortly after, Hassan Nasrallah announced that he, as Hizballah's leader, President Suleiman and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri pledged they would not allow the situation in Lebanon to explode over the STL indictment.
Further confirmation of Hariri's capitulation came from Tehran Thursday, Nov. 18 in the form of an invitation to the Lebanese prime minister to visit Tehran on Nov. 28-29 as guest of the Iranian leadership.
For the last three months, Hariri has been compelled under pressure to absolve the alleged assassins of his father of guilt and save them from facing justice before a UN tribunal.
Tuesday was the second time. In the first week of September, he cleared Syria by saying, "Those accusations had been political. We committed mistakes and were hasty in accusing Syria." He went on to praise Syrian-Lebanese bilateral relations as "historic and brotherly." What harmed one country, directly and by default, harmed the other. Not a word was said about Syria's hostile attempts to dominate Lebanon.
In September, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report, he was pushed against a wall by the Saudis. But this week, he was driven to save Hizballah from facing the music by three calamitous discoveries:
Hariri is abandoned by the US, France and the Vatican
1. He discovered that behind the warm verbal support offered him and the tribunal by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Washington had no real intention of interfering with a potential Hizballah offensive to seize control of Beirut and other strategic areas of Lebanon (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 469 of Nov.12: Lebanon Waits to Be Mauled – Hizballah Prepares Detention Centers for 5,000 Opponents).
2. The same message came from French President Nicolas Sarkozy: France would not step in against Syrian-Iranian moves on Lebanon.
3. The last straw that broke Hariri's resistance came from the Vatican, when he discovered this week that the Catholic Church had withdrawn its support from his drive for justice for his father's murder and from the Maronite Christian community which is a key part of his ruling March 14 political movement.
Tuesday, Nov. 16, the Vatican summoned the Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir to Rome. Vatican sources spread the word that the Holy See is seeking his resignation.
Universally abandoned, the beleaguered Lebanese prime minister, seeing nowhere else to turn, bowed and agreed to sign the reconciliation document put before him. The ceremony was due to take place after the Muslim Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) of Thursday, November 18. It has only one meaning: abject surrender to Hizballah and its threats of civil violence.
If Washington, Riyadh, Paris and the Vatican imagine they have averted Lebanon's slide into civil war by cowing its elected prime minister, they are mistaken. Washington's surrender to Iran and its allies in Baghdad last week (See HOT POINTS: Iran's Baghdad feat will force US to engage Hizballah, Hamas) and in Beirut now fuel a Middle East powder keg that will blow up before soon and exact a higher price than ever before.