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    What might Hezbollah Face once the Trial Begins?

    So Daniel Bellemare, the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, has submitted a draft indictment against suspects in the Hariri assassination. The judicial train has finally left the station.

    This is a pivotal event, even if we do not yet know the identities of those indicted. Bellemare has told us he would submit an indictment based on overwhelming evidence. Therefore, we can assume that there will be a legal process and that individuals with clear political affiliations will be subjected to months of judicial proceedings before a global audience, whether or not they are personally present.

    We know that the indictments will almost certainly cover persons aligned with Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. One question, though, is whether Syrian or even Iranian persons will be named alongside the Lebanese accused. Given Hezbollah’s assumption that the murder indictments will encompass two or more of its members, what would the implications be for the party? Contrary to the view that the party is capable of seizing Lebanon and sailing through unscathed, the consequences for it in the longer term may be catastrophic.

    First, although indictments are against individuals, not organizations, public suspicion directed against Hezbollah will be overwhelming, given the large-scale conspiracy involved in Rafik Hariri’s assassination and the subsequent trail of associated murders. This will be especially true if party members are the most prominent among the accused, while others fade into the background. As Hezbollah’s secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, openly stated in a speech last July otherwise denying Hezbollah’s involvement, any claim that party members involved in Hariri’s killing were “rogue elements” would fail to convince, given Hezbollah’s tight, disciplined structure. Much the same holds for Syria’s intelligence services.

    Furthermore, if the indictment of Hezbollah members eventually leads to convictions, it is difficult to see how the party could thereafter take part in Lebanese official business as if nothing had happened – at least in a Lebanon still part of the international community.

    Second, although the indictments are specifically for the Hariri assassination, it will be almost universally assumed that the leading suspects were also involved in other political crimes in the period 2004-2008. The sequence of political murders and attempted murders, including the Hariri assassination, involved 12 incidents, targeting politicians, journalists and security officials, with a total casualty toll of 54 dead and at least 335 wounded. These attacks represented the largest, most dramatic assassination campaign in the post Cold War world. Any organization or regime tarred with this brush will be politically finished in any meaningful sense, regardless of the constituency they might think they control.

    Third, defiance of the Special Tribunal, combined with efforts to turn the Lebanese government against the institution, will be to no avail. The tribunal will try the suspects in absentia and the international community will impose sanctions on both Hezbollah and the Lebanese state. If the international community is pushed into a corner, no one in Lebanon should doubt that it will react with serious measures.

    Overall, if the indictment includes Hezbollah personnel, the party will have little room for maneuver. Lebanese politics will go nowhere during the weeks when the pretrial judge, Daniel Fransen, confirms Bellemare’s indictments, whatever the dubious interventions of Turkey, Qatar or others. More Hezbollah speeches and threats to cut off hands will just convince more people that the party has plenty to hide, and any coup attempt can only end badly for the party. The formal indictment of Hezbollah members may conclusively wipe out its legitimacy in half of Lebanon. Assuming the prosecutor maintains the upper hand, the subsequent court proceedings might bring over many Shiites, as successive, relentless judicial sessions make the party’s alleged victimhood look ever more threadbare.

    Up to the point of indictment the Syrian regime has worked together with Hezbollah to try to force Lebanon to end its participation in and endorsement of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Both the party and Damascus fear the trajectory of the international judicial process. However, if an initial indictment names only Hezbollah members and Lebanese also-rans, Syria would hope for a free pass out of crimes that could not have occurred without its direction.

    William HARRIS
    The Daily Star

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