BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Mark Urban
« Previous | Main | Next »

Hezbollah escalate campaign against UN tribunal

Mark Urban | 16:24 UK time, Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The resignation of Hezbollah (and its principal Christian ally) from the Lebanese government has put the country on the proverbial knife edge.

It also shows how far the search for truth or justice - cherished concepts to people the world over - might lead to truly appalling consequences in this particular place.

The crisis hinges over the United Nations investigation into the assassination nearly six years ago of the then Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. For months the rival factions have been bracing themselves for the results of this long inquiry, because it is widely believed that it will blame Hezbollah for killing the popular Sunni politician by detonating a truck bomb as his motorcade passed.

Hezbollah (literally the Party of God) is a real force to be reckoned with. It has representation in the Lebanese parliament, its own widely watched satellite TV station, champions the roughly one third of the population that is Shia, has a heavily armed and highly expert military force, and is Iran's principal ally in the eastern Mediterranean.

Mr Hariri's son Saad is now Prime Minister, and Hezbollah accuses him of 'mishandling' the investigation, which has been partly funded by Lebanon itself. Saad Hariri's personal position is mind boggling - after all what Hezbollah have done today is to walk out of his government because they are so angry about being accused of the assassination.

Hariri the younger now has to balance the good of the nation, including the avoidance of a possible new civil war, against his desire to see his father's murderers get their comeuppance. It has all the complexity and poignancy of a Shakespearean or Greek tragedy.

Hezbollah argues that the UN investigation has been hijacked by the Israelis who were themselves responsible for the 2005 killing. But since Wissam Eid, a Muslim Lebanese police captain, was responsible for gathering much of the key evidence, and the many Canadians, Belgians, and other sundry nationalities who carried out the investigation can hardly be accused of signing up en masse to an Israeli conspiracy, the Hezbollah line on this is not gaining much traction outside their south Beirut heartland.

Capt Eid was himself assassinated by a car bomb in 2008, and the UN is now investigating whether Hezbollah carried out that hit as well.

Many feel that the UN has dragged its heels on this investigation (started in 2007), and it's easy enough to understand the difficult moral equation of seeking justice for Rafik Hariri and the 21 others who perished with him in the blast, versus the potential of unleashing a civil war that might claim thousands of lives.

The Hague-based tribunal must now forward its dossier to a judge, who could then issue indictments against certain key individuals in the plot a few weeks later. So far, it has not been passed to the judge.

Several senior Hezbollah officials have been named in press reporting as likely candidates for charges relating to the assassination. However some sources close to the UN tribunal suggest that their evidence, a substantial amount of which relates to analysis of mobile phones used by the hit team and its controllers, does not provide the kind of hard evidence that can be used to prosecute individuals.

Whatever the shortcomings of the evidence though it is clear enough from the diplomatic dance we have seen in recent months, that major regional players from Saudi Arabia to Jordan, and Syria, are deeply worried that this crisis will set Lebanese Sunnis on a course for confrontation with the Shia community.

Lebanon's neighbours have sought, as has Prime Minister Saad Hariri himself, to get Iran to exert a moderating influence on Hezbollah.

With today's resignations, Hezbollah has escalated its political campaign against the UN tribunal. Their behaviour suggests they believe not only that the UN will accuse them, but that its charges could be detailed and credible. A new phase of this crisis has started - even if nobody has yet been publicly accused by the UN of murder.


  • Comment number 1.


    I can't decide if there are also not enough gods. The spinner who came up with the ploy of monotheism, has a lot to answer for. But you can see the Machiavellian quality of it. The only counter-move then left, was to claim YOU have access to the SON OF THE ONE GOD. Game set and match.

    Religion is soooo like politics. No surprise Tony is doing both. . .

  • Comment number 2.

    looks to me lebanon is being used to fight other people's wars ie syria and iran versus saudi and the usa? ie a proxy chess board . the middle east in general is a chess board [iraq]?

    Hezbollah is a creature of the israeli occupation. If you think its a monster go look for its creator?

  • Comment number 3.

    This is clearly the desperation of guilty men. If they are innocent why are they trying to derail and obstruct the UN Tribunal? As for Hezbollah's creation the monster concerned is the terrorist state of Iran which uses it to destabilise the entire region.

  • Comment number 4.

    if you mean by 'stability' a usa funded israeli occupation that depends on ethnic cleansing then yes.

    Lebanese politics is dominated by the fallout from the israeli occupation. Hiz has become dominate after they defeated the israeli invasion of lebanon.

    The solution is easy for just minded people. The IRA are a creature of the norman monarchy model occupation of ireland. They were funded from the USA where they had political support. Without USA support after 9/11 the IRA had to talk. In the same way if the USA stopped funding the occupation israel would also have to talk.

    talking of guilty men why did the israelis apologise for using british passports thus admitting to their State backed international murder crimes?

    Lebanon is a victim of other people's wars.

  • Comment number 5.

    ' is widely believed that it will blame Hezbollah* for killing the popular Sunni politician by detonating a truck bomb as his motorcade passed....

    *Hezbollah (literally the Party of God) is a real force to be reckoned with.'

    Good job they didn't pop 'peace' in any form in there, as the irony meter would have exploded. Is Mr. Bowen still on hols?

    Anyway, when it comes to priorities, they seem to be at the forefront of media savvy: you simply cannot have enough microphones at times like these.

  • Comment number 6.

    I love how long the bow gets drawn in trying to blame Israel for every problem in the region (Mossad sharks and vultures aside). Sorry to shatter the myth of Arab passiveness, innocence and victimhood but a reminder that every conflict between Israel and Lebanon since 1948 has been caused by attacks launched from Lebanese soil, including the 2006 War. Lebanon has chosen to remain in a state of war with its southern neighbour since it's abortive invasion of Israel in 48. It has allowed every nutcase terrorist group, from the PLO to Hezbollah, to launch murderous attacks on northern Israel, killing Jews and Arabs indiscrimitely.
    Lebanon has been a sectarian political basket case since the 1930s, before Israel existed.. The current situation has everything to do with Arab tribalism and the desire of Iran and Syria to embolden the Shia minority to use violence and the threat of violence to impose its will on the non-Shia majority. When they don't get their way, they take to the streets and gun down their fellow Lebanese, blow up a few opposition politicians, or launch a cross-border attack on Israel so they can perversely pose as the 'resistance.'

  • Comment number 7.

    Having watched two large white media blowhards self-detonate with contradictory hypocrisy over the media's role in burning bridges between tribes on SKY Breakfast earlier, I popped over to Mr. Mardell's blog to find out the latest from across the pond.

    This seems now to have become as objective on American politics as Richard Black's is on (A)GW, with the number and volume of 'you're not welcome here with you... your... views' groupies camped there. It is hardly worth visiting either any more.

    At least here is more civilised and more open to varied opinion.

    But it is interesting how media standard bearers can rally, and inflame, by personal position and corporate affiliation.

    And it does matter.

    From the Middle East to Tuscon, when 'reporting', and on events in places far away, one has to trust the 'news' you are getting is not tainted by opinion unnecessarily. And hence the person and those who employ them.

    'Shortly before Barack Obama was elected, I spoke to a woman outside a Republican rally.
    “Why do you dislike Obama?” I asked. “Because he’s a baby killer!” she replied.
    The woman’s hatred was bizarre, chilling – and a sign of what was to come.'

    Now, though one is used to a fellow BBC correspondent, and colleague, spinning as 'news' a story out of what a bloke in a pub may have told a SPAD who emailed him a bit of gossip, I for one prefer my reporting to be a smidge better attributed, substantiated and confirmed, especially when passions are running high.

    Plus a little less hubris in claiming to speak to and for all folk when this is patently impossible, and what one can really only manage to do is speak for those you agree with, or agree with you, in a mutual comfort zone. Be it the Mirror. Or the BBC.

    If one chooses. Uniquely.

  • Comment number 8.

    pretty hard to talk about hiz without talking about israel?

    ..Hezbollah first emerged in response to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon

    A poll of Gaza Strip and West Bank residents indicated that 79.6% had "a very good view" of Hezbollah, and most of the remainder had a "good view". Polls of Jordanian adults in December 2005 and June 2006 showed that 63.9% and 63.3%, respectively, considered Hezbollah to be a legitimate resistance organization

    In August 2008, Lebanon's cabinet completed a policy statement which recognized "the right of Lebanon's people, army, and resistance to liberate the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, Kafar Shuba Hills, and the Lebanese section of Ghajar village, and defend the country using all legal and possible means."

  • Comment number 9.

    would love to visit the Lebanon, that troubled land has so much to offer and on Radio 4 last week there was correspondent who had lived there and the picture he painted was one that was so different from what I had imagined. I only hope that Beirut can be back on the Easyjet/Ryanair route so we can visit......sometime soon..

  • Comment number 10.

    I have to admit that I've been puzzled as to why the investigation into Hariri's assassination has taken so very long - 6 years and counting.
    The Lebanon Alliance - Hezbollah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement - have resigned from the Lebanese cabinet; the Labanese Government has fallen. Apparently the Ministers made the decision after the Saudi-Syrian efforts to settle the crisis over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) reached an impasse: Since the Lebanese Government had fallen, Saad Hariri was not PM of Lebanon when he met with US President Barack Obama this past week.
    The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is backed by the United States and Israel; this onto itself could have very likely caused a feeling of prejudice or "fixing" regarding the UN investigation. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a message to Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz & Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri saying that the US would reject and would not allow any settlement at the expense of the UN tribunal.
    Since when is the United States such a keen supporter of UN resolutions, except of course in defence of Israel?
    The collapse of the Saudi-Syrian initiative followed talks in Washington & New York & involved: US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, & US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
    The Lebanese Government has been stalled for months because of
    - the political tension over the STL’s impending indictment and
    - the rival factions’ dispute over the issue of witnesses who may have provided false testimony to the UN investigation. The Lebanon Cabinet has met only once since November 10, and in its last meeting on December 15, failed to settle the issue of false witnesses.
    The Alliance DEMANDED a vote to refer the case to the Judicial Council, the country’s highest court, prompting Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to delay any discussions.
    State Minister for Administrative Development, Mohamad Fneish expressed deep regret over the deadlock the Saudi-Syrian effort “as a result of US pressure.” Fneish was speaking to reporters in Rabieh at the residence of MP Michel Aoun who is leader of the Free Patriotic Movement. Fneish: “There was an Arab effort which we dealt with positively. We even bargained on it. However, as a result of US interference and the inability of the other side to deal with it, this effort has reached deadlock.”
    Saad Hariri said the settlement had been finalized. What settlement? What were these high-level talks in Washington? It's still not clear what Clinton told Hariri - alone, without witnesses. But Clinton may have told Hariri & King Abdullah that the United States will not accept any solution in Lebanon before the STL indictment is released.”
    The indictment is expected to implicate Hezbollah members in the Hariri assassination...but then there is that outstanding issue of false witnesses.
    Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi: “US intervention has resulted in the failure of efforts made to bring peace and stability to Lebanon.” Lebanese MP Michel Aoun said that the Saudi-Syrian effort to resolve the controversy over the United Nations tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri had failed. In the wake of this development, the ministers representing Hezbollah and its allies, quit the cabinet, toppling the government of US-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
    Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi: “The Americans and Israelis have always sought to undermine regional peace, and since the time this plan (the Saudi-Syrian initiative) was proposed for Lebanon’s stability, have made efforts to sabotage the plan and apparently have been successful.”
    July 16, 2010: Hezbollah Secretary General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah initiates debate over the pending tribunal indictment by labeling the court an “Israeli project” which sought to exploit Israel’s penetration of Lebanon’s communications network. Nasrallah claims that the tribunal will indict Hezbollah members.
    Aug 8, 2010: Nasrallah accuses Israel of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, claiming Hezbollah has intercepted an Israeli surveillance drone that shows Israeli spy footage, including the route Hariri took before his death.
    Sept 6: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that he was wrong to blame Syria for killing his father, calling the charge a “political accusation.” Hariri also acknowledges that false witnesses have misled investigators.
    Oct 3: Syria issues 33 arrest warrants for Lebanese and international officials for allegedly lying to the United Nations investigators. Arrest warrants are issued for the commander of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, Major Genral Ashraf Rifi as well as German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis who led the initial UN investigation team.
    Nov 10: The Lebanese cabinet meets to discuss these several false witnesses, but the session is adjourned by President Michel Suleiman.
    Alliance ministers demand that false witnesses be referred to the Judicial Council. Ministers of Hariri’s Alliance believe that trial by the regular judiciary is preferable. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejects this alternative.
    Dec. 15: Five weeks after its last session, the Lebanese cabinet is again adjourned without making headway on the issue of all these false witnesses. More than 300 agenda items are left unaddressed.
    Jan. 7: Hariri meets with Clinton & UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York. Clinton also meets with Saudi King Abdullah and expresses Washington’s “ongoing support for the special tribunal.”
    Jan. 11: Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun says the Saudi-Syrian initiative has failed. Alliance ministers resign from the Lebanese cabinet, toppling the government of US-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
    Having followed this situation closely, I have to wonder about the integrity of the UN investigation and the potential involvement of the US and Israel.

  • Comment number 11.

    Special Tribunal for Lebanon: The chief prosecutor investigating the 2005 assassination of the Lebanese politician/businessman, Rafik Hariri is expected to hand down his conclusions “early next week”. The development comes just days after the collapse of The Coalition Government of Saad Hariri whose Government was brought down by the resignation of 11 cabinet ministers.
    Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shia Islamic movement, has accused Israel of being behind the UN-appointed tribunal, and that several false witnesses (as many as 33) have committed perjury.
    Saad Hariri returned to Lebanon after meetings with leaders in Washington, Paris and Ankara. He has been appointed care-taker PM by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and will likely try to form a new coalition.
    Tribunal officials say there will be “no public event” at which the indictments will be announced; there will only be a press release indicating that the recommendations have been handed over to the tribunal’s judicial wing (i.e. no names).
    An odd point: The names of those for whom indictments are being sought will not be released anytime soon. A pre-trial judge is to take “six to 10 weeks” to determine which, if any, of the named will face prosecution. Only then, they insist, will the names be made public.
    While Hezbollah leaders have made it clear they do not want to be seen as instigating any violence, neither do they want to be indicted for the murder of the late Mr. Hariri, a popular figure who was largely responsible for rebuilding of Lebanon.
    In 2008 Hezbollah militants terrorized several Sunni and Christian districts in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, in a show of force to protest certain restrictions that had been imposed on the Shia group. The restrictions were lifted and a new political arrangement made to accommodate Hezbollah.
    A former Canadian federal prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, is the tribunal’s Chief Prosecutor, appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He has headed up the investigation for the past three years.
    But there will remain the complication of those who may have testified falsely, and how does one resolve the truth?

  • Comment number 12.

    I just wish people from within the world jewish community could be free to talk about a withdrawl from the Middle East back to the West ....for the sake of those six million innocent Jews who have congregated in probably the most dangerous place imaginable for a colony of American backed westernised jewish people to be.

    Israelis are fed paranoia and racism by the Zionists as a way to hold them together...yet surely it`s clear to them that the Islamists will eventually expel them by one means or another?Surely the USA will not be able to fund the Zionist cult for ever? (As a matter of interst isn`t Zionism a form of racism?)

    If you ever try to talk about this as a gentile the response is predictably venomous from some jewish people...but if I marched back into Wales (because I have a welsh surname) and started bulldozering the houses of people with English or Jewish names and telling them to get out of my ancestral homeland .....I would be locked up!

  • Comment number 13.


    Is Welsh nationalism a form of racism?

    My apologies for going off-topic.

    Please ignore the question.

  • Comment number 14.

    SG...not at all`s a very important subject....because the English are told any nationalist sentimentents they harbour ARE racist...and right wing and anti-democratic and xenophobic..... and anything else the London Mafia can dream up in their mission to bring transparency and ojectivity and impartiality into our lives.

    BTW It`s all because that prize possession of American capitalism ...the City of in England ...and Wall Street won`t let that fall into unreliable hands!(Also the UK is the USA`s main milch cow and Trojan Horse for controlling and financing and asset stripping the EU)

    .If Kosovo or Georgia want independence well that`s a different thing!But England? No fear!

    Wales? Nobody cares!

  • Comment number 15.

    By the way Scotch Git...most of my ancestors came from the Hebrides and it has often struck me that my cousins were always encouraged to dream of separation from England....particularly once oil revenues had flowed through London to finance America`s EU project to take over the Soviet Block........but we English born chaps get a very different reception if we dream of an English assembly.

    And don`t get me started on the London luvvies beloved republicanism (has Ken Loach or the Beeb ever done a sympathetic portrayal of a Protestant?)..Irish nationalism and American support for Irish independence. America`s global empire it very much depends on where you are and how it suits the objectives of the USA whether you can become a "free country"!


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.