May 23, 2009

Did Hezbollah Assassinate Rafik Hariri?

According to Germany’s Der Spiegel, United Nations investigators now believe Hezbollah assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Valentine’s Day in 2005. Der Spiegel might be wrong, and, if not, UN investigators themselves might be wrong. I’m no fan of Hezbollah, but I need more evidence before I’m willing to say “Hezbollah did it.”

Even so, this could be an enormous bombshell in Lebanon where voters go to the polls in a few weeks.

UPDATE: The Der Spiegel story isn't sourced, so it could be bogus. But NOW Lebanon reports that the UN spokesperson for the tribunal has "no comment." I'd expect the spokesperson to deny the story if it were false. At this point, I'm willing to assume the UN really does think Hezbollah did it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 23, 2009 12:09 PM

So... in the interests of conspiracy mongering... we've all assumed Syria did it, and it came from right next to Assad if not himself. But with everybody sucking up to the slimeball, maybe there are those who want to give him a way to dis-associate himself just a soupcon from Hezbollah, and by extension Iran, AND by doing that, move his own sorry ass off the hot seat and into 'fit for good company' status... and pinch Hezbollah a bit before elections...

I know, never mind. Although I have concluded nothing, absolutely nothing, is too far-fetched.

Posted by: AZZenny Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 7:42 PM

I've always thought Hezbollah did it. It had "Hezbollah" written all over it. Also, I don't think its a coincidence that Imad Mugniyah was assassinated, and the investigation into Syria suddenly got shelved.

But I'm not an "honest broker" when it comes to Hezbollah. I'll be the first to admit that. I'd accuse them of being the cause of cancer and birth defects if there was the slightest bit of evidence.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 7:27 AM

I thought car bombs were a Syrian and al Qaeda/sunni militia modus operandi. These bombs are either used by Syrians or by Sunni extremist enemies of Syria.

An article in the Times Online, titled "Sunni extremists suspected in Tripoli and Damascus blasts" discusses the unrest/bombings in Tripoli last year:

Sunni Islamist extremists are the main suspects behind the bomb attack in Lebanon this morning and a deadly explosion in Damascus over the weekend, which many saw as revenge for Syria's long dalliance with jihadist elements.
While the explosion in Tripoli targeted Lebanese troops there for the second time in two months, the 200kg bomb that killed 17 people near a military installation and Shia shrine in Damascus was the worst such attack since the secular Syrian regime fought bloody battles with the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s...

..Analysts believe that both attacks bear the hallmarks of terror groups linked to al-Qaeda intent on destabilising the region. Syria has offered shelter to such Mujahidin since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, providing them a base.
But Syria, whose stability has long been enforced by its oppressive police and secret services, has been showing signs of strain in the past year, with a number of mysterious assassinations raising questions about internal power struggles and external threats

Some of the people involved in the Hariri bombing bought their cellphones in Tripoli.

Syria supports Hezbollah and al Qaeda, and all of these groups work together when they're not killing each other, so it's hard to tell what the new evidence might mean. But it is strange that investigators kept the information quiet, and that it was 'leaked' this way.

Speaking of Syrian and Lebanese extremist groups, I had an interesting online conversation with someone who appeared to be a member or supporter of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party. He was very offended by my post on "Christopher Hitchens vs. Syrian supported Nazis in Beirut", and said so in the comments section.

I didn't realize that the SSNP has so many Western and European connections (aside from the obvious supporters like Noam Chomsky and George Galloway).

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 8:21 AM

I do not care very much, which one of them did that. Whether it was Syria, Hezbollah, or both of the together. But I must agree, timing of this news looks highly suspicious.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 9:00 AM

But I must agree, timing of this news looks highly suspicious.

Yes, it does, leo. This investigation never seems to come to any conclusion, but things get "leaked" a lot, eh? :o

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 9:53 AM

But I must agree, timing of this news looks highly suspicious.

It doesn't to me, assuming it's all legit.

There is apparently some disagreement inside the UN whether or not this should be made public since it's still somewhat speculative, since nothing has yet been proven. But someone in the UN thinks the Lebanese have a right to know before they elect a coalition of parties that includes Hezbollah next month.

I know several Lebanese who are not with March 14 or March 8, and this sort of thing is likely to tip their vote away from March 8.

I suppose it's possible that this sort of news will tip someone else's vote toward March 8, but I don't know anyone like that personally.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 10:55 AM

This news also explains why the previous suspects were released from custody a few weeks ago. I thought that was slightly suspicious, but maybe it wasn't.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 10:58 AM

The UN quote to NOW Lebanon doesn't say "no comment" exactly, it says:

"We don't know where they are getting the story from. The office of the prosecutor doesn't comment on any issues related to operational aspects of the investigation," which is different. It means they never comment on anything, not just this.

I must say that being in Beirut as I am at the moment, it's not causing (yet) the sort of stir one might expect. March 14th are not trying to capitalise on this, and Nasrallah just laughed it off when he addressed a Hezbollah rally in the Dahiyeh which I was just filming at...

Some people are saying it's a planted story designed to detract attention from the "spy rings" that the ISF have been tearing up here over the past few weeks. So I suppose the implication from these types is that it's a Mossad black op.... who knows?

Hezbollah have - and had - the wherewithal to pull of that sort of thing, but I can't see why they'd have wanted to do it. Hariri Snr and Nasrallah apparently got on well and Hariri was not all about disarming the military wing of Hezbollah -- which is really all that bothers the group.

Personally I would find it rather odd that: Hezbollah did it, Syria is totally innocent -- which is roughly the gist of the Der Speigl piece... and as I say, no-one on M14 is jumping on it.

Maybe they dare not.

Cos, if (IF --- a big "IF") it is true there will be a new civil war in Lebanon. But I don't buy it... single source, unattributed... wierd timing.... no UN verification....


Posted by: Microraptor Author Profile Page at May 25, 2009 3:49 PM


I had similar thoughts. If the Iranians "have repressed the Syrians' influence" and designed the attack without Syrian knowledge, and if the attack led to the end of Syrian occupation of Lebanon, why oh why is Syria still Iran's water-carrier? To the point that they'd fight tooth-and-nail against any investigation, thus appearing guilty in the eyes of the world? Habit? Fear? Or is this a marriage of convenience that not even betrayal can tear asunder?

Posted by: calbear Author Profile Page at May 25, 2009 11:32 PM

So it's just like I always thought: Hezbo did it, and Mughniyeh was the operator.

Since I'm just a blogger who reads other blogs, analyzes the news, and scarcely travels anywhere, I'm very suspicious of anything that follows my thinking so precisely.

Hezbollah have - and had - the wherewithal to pull of that sort of thing, but I can't see why they'd have wanted to do it.

IMO, because Hariri rebuilt a large portion of Beirut, once he decided to return to politics he automatically possessed cross-sectarian appeal. This is something Hezbollah does not tolerate since that threatens Hezbollah's grip upon the Lebanese Shi'a. Once Hariri made it clear he would not be co-opted, he was labelled a competitor for power and the decision was made to eliminate him. The correct analogy is the Iranian mullahs process of gathering political allies to overthrow the Shah, then using their guns to eliminate or exile them afterwards.

The Syrians knew - I imagine they monitored everything Mughniyeh did from his Damascus base and his operatives in Beirut - and may have attempted to warn Hariri (which was interpreted as a threat, which is why the Syrians were prime suspects), but did nothing to change the course of events.

Posted by: Solomon2 Author Profile Page at May 26, 2009 6:56 AM

I don't agree with Solomon2's analysis because it he doesn't take into account the way Lebanese politics works or what Beirut is actually like.

Hariri was anyway PM when he died and he couldn't have become more than that because of the nature of sectarian politics here.

The system is quite rigid in terms of how many seats in parliament go to which confessional groups (ie. not parties per se, but different religious confessions) on top of that certain important posts are guaranteed for certain religions: The President is ALWAYS a Christian (so Hariri could never have become President), The Speaker is ALWAYS a Shia Muslim (in this case it's Amal's Nabih Berri - Amal being the other big Shiite political party...) and the PM is ALWAYS a Sunni.... and Hariri was the PM... he couldn't have become more than he was.

Also, I don't know if you've ever been to Beirut, but the "substantial" part of the city Rafiq Hariri's Solidere development company rebuilt -- with high interest loans issued to the Lebanese state by banks run by none other than Rafiq Hariri, which made him even richer and saddled Lebanon with the highest per capita national debt in the world -- is the very central part of Beirut between the coastline and the ring road centred around Place de Martyres.

Nowadays it's known as "Solidere" after the development company that rebuilt it, this area was designed as a high-rollers playground which would theoretically encourage Gulf Arab tourists to spend lots of money, which would then supposedly "trickle down" to ordinary Lebanese.

That never really happened. Pretty though it is (and one must thank Mr Hariri for refurbishing beautiful old Ottoman and Colonial buildings than replacing them with typically Beiruti glass/concrete skyscrapers) this district is way out of the price range of most Lebanese and few venture there: It consists largely of very expensive restaurants and designer boutiques, very rich foreigners saunter from Sushi joint to Versace boutique with their Phillipino maids and kids in tow before getting the valet to bring Range Rover SE Lux back round to drive home. The cheapest store I saw was Haagen Daaz and a pint tub of ice cream was 10 USD.

It may be true that some of the bus boys, waiters, dishwashers and shop girls who work in Solidere come from poorer parts of Lebanese society. Many may well be Shia from the southern suburbs wher Hezbollah rules the roost. But the idea that the Solidere project would somehow be enough to undermine the popularity of Hezbollah or of Hassan Nasrallah personally is not really viable as I see it. And I am being polite.

Likewise the idea that Hezbollah would want to kill this man because of Solidere making him "too popular" with Shi'ites simply doesn't take into account the way the political system of Lebanon works.

Posted by: Microraptor Author Profile Page at May 26, 2009 11:51 AM

Microraptor is right about Solidere.

All of Beirut improved dramatically during Hariri's tenure, however. Christopher Hitchens was there right at the end of the war, and he told me looked like Rotterdam after the Nazis were through with it.

Here is an excerpt from his recent interview with NOW Lebanon.


So, as someone who has followed the affairs of the Middle East for more than three decades, what surprised Hitchens about Lebanon now? "When I was last here in 1991," he said, "I remember very vividly going along the airport road. There wasn't a single undamaged building within a bull's roar. There was only one functioning hotel. It looked like a moonscape." And then, he says, he saw one old man with a shovel, just beginning to dig away at the rubble of one building. "I couldn't get him out of my mind. I was so touched by it," but didn't think much of his chances. "I was thinking, well, lots of luck. See you in fifty years."

Echoing many who last saw Beirut during and after the war, he declares the reconstruction unbelievable. "What impressed me about Mr Hariri, really a lot, was that he got the place somewhat back in place in…fifteen? Ten years? I would never have believed it could have been done." While recognizing that the people of the South, and the girls who glanced at him in the Dahiyeh probably feel the same way about Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah after the devastation and reconstruction following the 2006 war, he expressed admiration for what he saw as the non-sectarianism and generosity of Rafik Hariri.

He's imperious, is Hitchens, a drinker, a charmer in a dictatorial sort of way, and a player of political and intellectual games. But March 14 might have cause to be grateful for this influential, if controversial, supporter's sincerity in condemning Hariri's death. "The whole of new Beirut owes a debt to Hariri," he said, "so that to kill, to murder such a person is more than an attack on democracy, it's… an attack on civilization."

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 26, 2009 12:04 PM
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