In a press conference that Qifa Nabki called ‘one of the most significant political events of the past five years’, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah unveiled his evidence that Israel was responsible for the Hariri assassination in 2005. In the 1990s, Hizbullah managed to tap into communications between Israeli reconnaisance planes and their base; going through the archive of data, the organisation found that the Israelis were taking pictures of Ras Beirut and Hariri’s residence in Faqra. This was backed up by evidence given to Hizbullah by Israeli ‘collaborators’ in Lebanon, who were asked for information on movements of politicians such as Hariri and Geagea, rather than movements of Hizbullah leaders. So far, so circumstantial, as Nasrallah himself acknowledges; the evidence will not convict Israel but, according to Nasrallah, will hopefully broaden the field of investigation. Like all evidence relating to the Hariri case, this is no ‘smoking gun’. But its political significance is hugely important.
Hizbullah’s aims in presenting the evidence were not just to distract attention from the fact that several of its members are likely to be indicted by the tribunal investigating the Hariri assassination. More broadly, Nasrallah wants to spread doubt, delegitimise the tribunal, and to offer an ‘alternative narrative’ to the tribunal’s findings when they are eventually published. The tribunal is already viewed with suspicion in Lebanon; the length of time that it has taken, and the frequency of leaks, have done much to discredit it as a legitimate investigation. If the tribunal is going to succeed – and the issue, of course, goes beyond the tribunal itself, as its conclusions have to potential to seriously destabilise Lebanon – many argue it should take everything into account and deal with every reasonable doubt.
The next move now lies with Saad Hariri, who is inconveniently currently in Sardinia. If he rejects Hizbullah’s claims outright then he risks losing control of the country. Qifa Nabki lays out a likely scenario: the tribunal will indict Hizbullah, who along with Jumblatt and Aoun will ‘throw the brakes’ on the tribunal and disrupt the coalition. Hariri will likely be forced out and will not be able to regain his position as prime minister. This is Hariri’s dilemma – if the tribunal reaches a conclusion that he must publicly denounce in order to keep hold of power, then what will he do?
QN suggests that he call Hizbullah’s bluff and see what they actually have. If the evidence stands up under examination, then it will be an important contribution to the investigation. If not, and there are several important questions that need to be asked about it, then Hariri has lost nothing and has shown he is willing to explore every possibility. According to QN, Hariri ‘should not hesitate’ to launch the investigation that Hizbullah has been calling for. This is not necessarily playing into Hizbullah’s hands, but is rather strengthening Hariri and the credibility of the tribunal.