By Bill Samii, Radio Free Europe
On 11 December, the independent investigator in
the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri
submitted his final report to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The
investigator, Detlev Mehlis from Germany, said on 12 December that Syrian and
Lebanese intelligence services coordinated the bombing that killed Hariri and 22
others, and 19 Syrian and Lebanese officials are suspects.
In Lebanon it is difficult to forget
about the assassination of Hariri. The scene of the bombing in Beirut is blocked
off, but one can easily view its physical impact -- a huge crater and heavily
damaged buildings. Throughout the city, furthermore, there are posters featuring
Hariri and demanding "truth." One building, in fact, has a counter that displays
the number of days since the assassination took place. While some Lebanese are
eager for answers and eagerly anticipate the Mehlis report, others are concerned
about its focus on Syria. Tehran, meanwhile, is emphatic in its support for
initial draft of the Mehlis report was released in October. It found that the
assassination was several months in the making, and it was carried out by a
group with "an extensive organization and considerable resources and
capabilities." It went on to describe evidence of Syrian and Lebanese
involvement, noted the extensive presence in Lebanon of Syrian military
intelligence, and added that former Lebanese security officials were Syrian
appointees. Syrian and Lebanese intelligence reportedly infiltrated Lebanese
institutions and society, the report added, and "it would be difficult to
envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been
carried out without their knowledge."
At the end of October, the
UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1636, which demanded Syrian cooperation
in the investigation and the availability of Syrian security officials for
questioning. Damascus agreed, on 25 November, that five Syrian officials would
travel to Vienna to answer Mehlis's questions. They did so in December, but the
report issued on 12 December refers to "reluctance and procrastination" by the
Seeking The Truth
Amin Gemayel served as Lebanon's president from 1982-88, and he now heads
the Al-Kataeb party, which is part of the governing coalition. An Al-Kataeb
member, Pierre Gemayel, currently serves as industry minister. The former
president stressed the importance of the Mehlis investigation in a 9 December
interview with RFE/RL in Beirut.
"Discovering the truth concerning
the death -- the assassination -- of Hariri is essential," Amin Gemayel said.
"First of all, to consolidate the Lebanese consensus, and second, to normalize
the relations with Syria. Truth is the base. You can't build a national
consensus or normalize our relations with Syria based on the 'non-truth.'
Non-truth leads nowhere -- to suspicion and fears."
One of the
Al-Kataeb party's main objectives is "sovereignty," Gemayel explained. "For us,
sovereignty means that no foreign forces on our soil without the real legal and
constitutional acceptance by Lebanon through a very rigid process." Gemayel said
it was though such processes that Lebanon accepted the presence of multinational
forces in the 1980s or of UN observer missions later. "There was a very rigid
and specific process to accept foreign forces, not like when the Syrians were
there, or when the Pasdaran [Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps], the
Iranians and so forth."
Shi'ite Parties Speak
Shi'ite political organizations in Lebanon have a
fairly close relationship with Syria, and their representatives are critical of
the international investigation into the Hariri assassination. Ali K. Hamdan, a
member of Amal's political bureau, told RFE/RL on 8 December that it is
important to get to the truth in Hariri's killing. However, Hamdan continued,
the constant criticism of Syria undermines the 1989 Ta'if Accords, which he
credited with ending the country's civil war and creating a more balanced
distribution of power in a system that previously favored the Maronite Christian
minority. (The accords also legitimized the deployment of Syrian troops in
Lebanon.) "We must close this chapter," Hamdan said.
Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hizballah, also believes that it is
important to get to the truth in this case. Nasrallah said in a 28 October
speech in southern Beirut that everybody wants the truth, Al-Manar television
reported. Fearing that the case would become politicized, he continued,
Hizballah advocated a Lebanese-Saudi investigative committee or one within the
Arab League framework. "What we see today is using the Mehlis report as a
pretext to punish Syria for a crime in which it has not yet been proven to be
involved," Nasrallah said. "They want to punish it for its political and
Nasrallah was even more emphatic in his
defense of Syria in a 25 November speech, Al-Manar reported. "We have been, and
will remain, friends to Syria; we are proud of this friendship. We have been
friends to Syria since 1982.... We do not hide our friendship with Syria and we
are not embarrassed by it."
Turning to the issue of Hariri's
assassination, Nasrallah said all Lebanese should help the investigation. "This
means that we should help Syria, too. We should help and not corner Syria."
Nasrallah added, "We are the only Lebanese party that benefited from Syria for
the sake of liberating Lebanon, and benefited from Iran for the sake of
liberating Lebanon as well."
Great Britain, France, and the United States
backed UN Resolution 1636, and it was unanimously adopted by the Security
Council, thereby implying that the international community is behind it. But at
least one country, Iran, has been unflagging in its support for Syria.
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad telephoned his Syrian counterpart Bashar
al-Assad on 4 November and reassured him of Tehran's backing in the face of
international pressure, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and SANA
reported. Ahmadinejad and al-Assad discussed regional developments by telephone
on 18 November as well, IRNA reported.
Foreign Minister Manuchehr
Mottaki arrived in Damascus on 14 November, Iranian state television reported.
"Vigilance, consultation, and cooperation between the regional countries will
prevent the enemies of this region from implementing their ill intentions,"
Mottaki said when he arrived. "The Americans are following specific objectives
in the region with the aim of bolstering the Zionist regime's interests."
According to SANA, furthermore, Mottaki praised Syrian cooperation with the
Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah traveled to
Damascus at this time to meet with Mottaki, "The Daily Star" reported on 16
November. An anonymous Hizballah official told the newspaper that this would be
normal, and he added that Nasrallah's position is similar to Mottaki's.
"Nasrallah has also echoed similar stances on almost every occasion," the
unnamed official said. "Any meeting with Mottaki would be placed within this
framework. This is not a secret."
Mottaki met with Syrian Foreign
Minister Faruq al-Shara on 19 November on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq
in Cairo, IRNA reported the next day. They discussed the Mehlis report, and
Mottaki emphasized their countries' unity against foreign pressure.
Where To Now?
Mehlis has said that he will
not continue with the investigation into Hariri's killing, although the
investigation itself will continue for at least another six months. It is not
known who will succeed the German investigator. There is little question,
however, that most Lebanese want to know the truth. The massive rallies in
February that turned into what has been called the Cedar Revolution, as well as
the rallies that followed the 12 December killing by a roadside bomb of Gibran
Tueni, a Lebanese legislator and critic of Syrian involvement in his country's
affairs, are proof that this case cannot be swept away.