Monday, January 17, 2011

Hariri Tribunal issues a sealed indictment

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL; a.k.a. 'The Hariri Tribunal') investigators have finally made their official indictments.
International prosecutors have issued an indictment for the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon has not yet released names of suspects, and a pre-trial judge will now decide whether to issue warrants.

Members of the armed Shia group Hezbollah are expected to be named.
Any bets on how long the secret stays secret? Just asking...

Anyway, the political maneuvers to frame this matter have been underway since Hizb'allah (Hezbollah) walked out of the governing coalition last week. They are hoping to get a compliant administration to refuse further cooperation with the STL. Kind of like gangsters trying to buy off a prosecution, that.

In a pleasant manifestation of stated international support for stability as a new Prime Minister is being selected, the U.S. Embassy has been trying to have some understanding (or small support) of the process. Let's just say the guys on the other side are taking notice:
At the weekend, US ambassador Maura Connelly held talks with Christian MP Nicolas Fattoush - seen as a pivotal figure in the attempt to build a new coalition.

Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami summoned the envoy and accused her of "interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon".

The US strenuously denied the allegations, state department spokesman Philip Crowley telling AFP news agency: "We are respecting Lebanon's sovereignty and we would hope other countries would as well."
Don't worry too much; Ambassador Connelly and the staff there must well know that A. al-Shami is only in that job because his Harakat Amal (Amal Movement) party is hand-in-glove (for now) with the Hizb'allah political wing. Best to simply receive the accusation and just smile quietly. Let Foggy Bottom handle the denials duty. Gives Crowley something to do with his spare time.

The big issue in this, of course, is what will Hizb'allah do if they think a government supported by Saudi Arabia, France, and or the United States is going to come into power. Unless it will be a terribly weak coalition, one with those supporters is not going to back off the quest to punish Hariri (Sr.) 's assassins. That will leave Hizb'allah only with its lifeline allies of Iran, Syria and anyone playing for their team, then Amal and the turncoat faction led by Michel Aoun siding with it in-country.

That isn't a sit-pat hand in the allies department, and there isn't much other than offering safe exile that they could do if they wait until the STL makes the charges formal and public. The expected play will be to continue to short-circuit the process: If bringing down the administration won't stop things, then the next step is probably either a move to *make* Hizb'allah the government (a coup or civil war) or the threat of a external conflict of sufficient size to distract attention (gee, another Hizb-Israeli War might do). But I'm not sure that latter choice would work. The Saudis for one would happily fight Hizb'allah to the last Israeli, if you get my meaning, and such a conflict going regional would simply end any sense in the Gulf Cooperation Council that the Iranian regime could be tolerated any longer.

Avoiding that and getting the accused to trial may be mutually exclusive.

I *think* it would be worth it, though, especially if those still-sealed indictments reach out beyond Hizb'allah... maybe even outside Lebanon...

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