Hezbollah is politically responsible for the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, even though the U.N.-backed tribunal said in its long-awaited verdict issued Tuesday there was no evidence that either the Syrian regime or Hezbollah’s leadership had any involvement in the case, analysts said.
The court found only one Hezbollah member guilty and acquitted three others.
The analysts said Hezbollah must now cooperate with the international community to hand over the party member found guilty of Hariri’s killing, warning that if the group continued to ignore the tribunal, this would deepen sectarian tensions and threaten the unity of the Lebanese.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, meeting in The Hague, said there was no proof that either the Hezbollah leadership or the Syrian regime was involved in the massive suicide truck bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005.
Concerning the four Hezbollah-linked suspects, the STL acquitted three of them, while finding only Salim Jamil Ayyash guilt of Hariri’s assassination.
Hariri’s killing has caused a major upheaval in the political landscape and shattered, to a large extent, stability and economic prosperity in the multi-sectarian country. The majority of the Lebanese, including political rivals, agree that Hariri’s assassination was at the root of political instability, economic deterioration and rounds of sectarian violence that have since jolted Lebanon.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri's son and political heir, attended the session and said afterward that that he accepted the verdict and demanded justice.
Asked to comment on the STL’s verdict, Dr. Imad Salamey, associate professor of political science at the Lebanese American University, told The Daily Star: “First, the court did not find either Syria or Hezbollah innocent in the killing of Mr. Hariri. On the contrary, the court established the highest probability that the assassination was politically incited and that Syria and Hezbollah were the most to benefit from the killing.”
“In addition, the court established that the assassination decision was only triggered after the passing of UN resolution 1559 and Hariri’s inclination to oppose Syria’s presence in Lebanon. Thus, and despite the absence of material evidence linking Hezbollah and Syria with the assassination, the court was clear in holding them responsible,” he said.
Hariri, a billionaire business tycoon seen as a threat to Iranian and Syrian influence in Lebanon, had close ties with the United States, Western and Gulf Arab allies opposed to Iran's expanding role in Lebanon and the region.
Before his assassination, Hariri had been accused by Syria’s Lebanese allies of being behind UN Resolution 1559 which, among other things, called for the dismantling of all militias and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon.
Salamey said the nature of the court and its limited jurisdictions prevented “a comprehensive investigation that should have at least questioned senior military Hezbollah, Syrian and Iranian leaders.”
“However, the obstruction of investigation, the assassinations that followed, and political obstacles that accompanied both investigation and deliberation were clearly orchestrated to obstruct justice and undermine a comprehensive and transparent judicial process,” he said.
Salamey said the STL’s verdict would have a negative impact on Hezbollah’s position both internally and internationally.
“Clearly Hezbollah is implicated as responsible for the assassination, thus the party is being condemned domestically and internationally. It is quite difficult for European countries, especially France, to maintain normal relations and attitude toward the party. Tremendous pressure has now been built in European countries to classify it as terrorist,” he said.
In addition to the US and several Arab Gulf states, Britain and Germany have also recently classified Hezbollah a “terrorist” organization.
“Domestically, the party's possession of weapons is more difficult to justify, as they have been clearly exposed as having been utilized against domestic opponents rather than Israel,” Salamey said.
Dr. Sami Nader, a professor of economics and international relations at Universite St. Joseph, also said Hezbollah bore political responsibility for Hariri’s killing.
“Although the court denied any evidence of Hezbollah’s responsibility for Hariri’s killing, the one who is charged and found guilty of this crime is a member of Hezbollah,” Nader told The Daily Star. “Therefore, you cannot deny any political responsibility for Hezbollah, even though its direct responsibility has not been established.”
“Now, it’s up to Hezbollah to see how it will react to the verdict. Will it cooperate with the international community in order to hand over Mr. Ayyash, yes or no?” Nader said, adding: “If it does, it will meet the Lebanese halfway, mainly those who wanted justice, who supported the creation of this tribunal, who wanted to know the truth and who wanted to see justice prevailing.”
“But if Hezbollah keeps on denying and belittling the importance of the tribunal as it is doing now, this will deepen the sectarian divide, threaten the unity of the Lebanese, threaten their social pact and their social contract that should be based upon the respect of each other and on the necessities to establish justice,” said Nader, also the director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, a Beirut-based think tank.
Nader said the STL’s verdict dismissed claims that the trial of the accused was politicized.
“We have to say that all claims that the trial was politicized and that the verdict was predetermined to weaken Hezbollah proved wrong,” he said. “The culprit is innocent until proven guilty. One of the four [Hezbollah] members was charged. Seventy-five percent of them, due to a lack of evidence, were declared innocent. The tribunal has proved it is credible and is not biased.”
However, Nader criticized the long time the court took to pronounce its verdict. “Taking too much time can cause a lot of damage to the tribunal in its attempts to serve the truth and justice,” he said.
Asked whether the guilty verdict against one Hezbollah member would heighten Sunni-Shiite tensions, Salamey, the LAU professor, said: “Hariri’s supporters are primarily made out of people who believed in peace building and reconstruction. It doesn’t matter whether one or four suspects are found guilty, the court has revealed the long awaited-truth of whose behind keeping Lebanon a land zone for mercenaries, preventing peace and prosperity for Lebanese. Supporters of Hariri will continue to denounce violence and pursue the path of the civil state and the rule of law.”
Hezbollah has refused to recognize the STL when it was established in 2009 to investigate and determine responsibility for Hariri’s killing. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and other party officials have dismissed the STL as an “American-Israeli project” designed to destroy the resistance and incite sectarian strife in Lebanon.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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