By Dr Franklin Lamb
South Beirut — Informed Congressional sources in Washington DC today are confirming that the White House has informed Congressional Committee Chairpersons and American allies that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) will indict Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Wali al Faqui (jurisconsult or Supreme Religious Leader) for issuing the order to ssassinate Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The US and Israel believe Iran’s motive was that PM Hariri was considered a serious threat to Tehran and Damascus because their intelligence agencies established that Hariri was conspiratorially linked to Saudi Arabia, France and the United States–and by extension, Israel.
One could be forgiven for getting confused by the “its Syria!, no its not its Hezbollah!, ohmygod it’s really Iran!” labyrinth in the Hariri assassination saga this past half decade. Late this week key Congressional leaders have been advised by the White House that the execution order targeting Hariri was delivered by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds force chief Qassem Suleymani to Hezbollah’s military commander Imad Mughniyeh. The US, Israel and their allies intend to back with an international media campaign, the STL theory that Mughniyeh and his brother-in-law, Mustapha Badr al-Dine met on several occasions and handpicked the team that carried out the assassination. Moreover, that Syrian President Bashar al-Aassad, and his brother-in-law, Syrian intelligence chief Assef Shawkat, also played key roles in organizing Hariri’s assassination. The US government expects that each of these named individuals, including several Hezbollah leaders, will be indicted and convicted, almost certainly in absentia.
Within the coming weeks the US Congressional lobby is expected to initiate in the House and Senate a total cut off of American aid to Lebanon unless resigned Prime Minister Hariri is immediately returned to office. This aid cutoff will be vociferously demanded by AIPAC despite statements to the contrary by American Ambassador Maury Connelly in Beirut earlier today.
Ambassador Connelly spoke to reporters following a meeting with Hezbollah ally General Michel Aoun, leader of the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc (FPM) at his residence in Rabieh. It was a rare visit indeed by an American Ambassador with Aoun, a gentleman who the US Embassy has privately labeled "megalomaniac". The visit by the US Ambassador reflected Aoun’s newly enhanced political status this weekend. Ms. Connelly assured the media gathering that “the United States remains steadfast in its support for Lebanon's state institutions through our robust military, security, and economic development assistance. We expect a new government will emerge through constitutional procedures, and our strong partnership with Lebanon will obviously endure.”
Few in Lebanon, or the region for that matter, give much credence to the Ambassador’s statement, particularly as Hezbollah is now the de facto new majority and can administer the government as its wants should it choose. The Lebanese Parliamentary lineup is probably, as of today, 64 seats for the US-Saudi team and 64 seats for the Lebanese National Resistance. Moreover, the momentum favors Hezbollah since it picked up support from Walid Jumblatt’s five member Progressive Socialist Party Parliamentary bloc, after Jumblatt broke with Washington in 2008 (Walid delayed announcing his switch until 2009 just in case Washington wanted to make amends which apparently they did not). What caused Jumblatt to bolt from March 14 was his friend Jeffrey Feltman's failure to deliver on promised support for Jumblatt’s very risky May 2008 political challenge to Hezbollah. Feltman pledged “all the help you need Walid. You can take it to the bank.” Jumblatt has stated publicly that he felt "stiffed" by the Americans but he still likes Jeffrey personally, if not politically.
The White House has made it plain that America expects Saad Hariri to be returned to his Prime Ministerial post. That event is unlikely to occur. Yet, the Hezbollah led opposition might allow Hariri to be a caretaker until the 2013 elections—but only if he fulfills their earlier demands and withdraws Lebanon from any association with the STL. The Obama administration has informed Congress that it would view a Hezbollah-led coalition assuming power in Lebanon as a direct threat to its strategic interests in the region and would likely, at a minimum, respond with an intense destabilization campaign. Frankly, there is little the Obama Administration can do that it has not tried before to squeeze Lebanon and it has little influence over events here partly due to the facts that the US is way overstretched in the region and is barely taken seriouslyin Iraq,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Levant countries these days.
Moreover, President Obama is said by one Congressional source to believe that Hezbollah is not interested in the hands on, “Jimmy Carter” style of governing for Lebanon or being involved in dealing with every detail of Lebanon’s very complicated sectarian system. The White House is said to expect Hezbollah to play a major role in forming the next government and some State Department staffers believe that it may even play a constructive role in shaping a policy statement that will govern the day to day running of the government. Few but the Israel lobby in Washington believe, or even mention, the idea that Hezbollah has any interest in an Islamic Republic system for Lebanon, repeatedly disavowed by Hezbollah officials including Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah is expected to increase its focus on Israel and continue to apply its skills and manpower to build a regional deterrence to Israeli aggression while working for domestic tranquility and stability. “In short, as one Congressional staffer via email, “Washington is not panicked by events in Lebanon at this time. We have bigger problems in the region and we’ll watch the STL’s progress and see what happens as a result of the indictments. But for sure we will not sit on our hands if things get out of hand.” The White House is said to be considering French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s idea of creating a "contact group" comprised of United States, France, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to negotiate a solution to the latest crisis.
There continues to be much speculation about the timing of the Special Tribunal indictments and what they will mean on the street. Bookies at the Casino de Liban near Jounieh have odds that those indicted will be named publicly on next month’s valentine’s day, the 6th anniversary of the Hariri murder. Others are holding their bets arguing that using that date would make the STL prosecutor’s office appear too politicized, a charge Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare has been chafing under for more than a year. The STL has said that the names of those indicted will be kept sealed when prosecutor Bellemare sends them to Pre-Trial Judge Daniel Fransen. The public will
likely learn the names of those indicted when arrest warrants are issued by the Court.
Despite civil war still being talked about as a possibility here in Lebanon, it has proven impossible to ignite to date even though it would suit US-Israel political goals. The sage of Lebanon, former Prime Minister Salem el Hoss predicts Lebanon is now headed for a long period of governmental stagnation while domestic and foreign actors angle for political and military advantages. Dr. Hoss explained that a civil war is unlikely given the attitudes of the young generation and the fact that none of the sects could successfully confront the Opposition led by Hezbollah and western powers lack credibility here.
More likely would be Israel undertaking a White House green-lighted invasion of Lebanon to degrade Hezbollah and Syria as a base toward the weakening of Iran from ground level. Congressional sources report that the Pentagon disagrees with Israel and intend to attack not from the base but from above the top of the Resistance pyramid, which is Iran. The US will hit Iran hard thus hopefully opening up another attempt to peel away Syria and forced them to accept a peace deal with Israel. The scheme would
return the Golan heights to the Assad regime minus the 100 meters strip along Syria’s Lake Tiberius. This sliver of lake front is where former Syrian President Hafez Assad told President Bill Clinton in 2000, he used to swim as a kid. He also told Clinton that Syria’s demand for its full return was non-negotiable, the same position adamantly held today by the Syrian government.
In Beirut, discussing the likelihood of street violence, a March 14th Hariri supporter attending Professor Norman Finkelstein’s public lecture at AUB last night told this observer that Lebanon needs stability and justice. "Let all the dead from Lebanon’s black civil war period rest in peace. It’s time to move on and rebuild our fractured country. I say all those who have been killed in Lebanon are equal.”
The enthusiastic young man did not believe his counsel should apply to the case of his personal idol, former P.M. Rafik Hariri, who while not the first PM to be killed in office, is the first one to be killed with such powerful friends insisting on “justice.”
Dr. Franklin Lamb is Director of the Sabra Shatila Foundation in Lebanon. He is working with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign (PCRC), in Lebanon to encourage its Cabinet and Parliament to enact basic civil rights legislation for Palestinian refugees, including the right to work and to own a home. Dr Lamb is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.