Five days before the crucial elections in Iran on June 12, voters go to the polls in another Middle East country: Lebanon. The stakes in Lebanon are high, since it’s looking more and more likely that Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite fundamentalist group, and its allies will win a majority and take control of the government in Beirut. That would create a fundamental choice for the Obama administration: does the United States continue to have contact with, and send military aid to, a Lebanese government controlled by Israel’s implacable foe?
Last year, in a power-sharing deal brokered by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, Hezbollah was given a share of power in the Lebanese state proportional to its strength in parliament and on the ground, after massive pro-Hezbollah demonstrations rocked the country.
Expect a lot of outside meddling in Lebanon during the next two weeks — on all sides.
An early shot was fired this week from Germany, where Der Spiegel, the conservative weekly magazine, revealed that investigators probing the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri have concluded that Hezbollah, and not Syria, is responsible for the spectacular bombing that killed Hariri, a pro-Western billionaire with close ties to France and Saudi Arabia. (Hariri’s son, Saad Hariri, is leading the anti-Hezbollah coalition in the June 7 election.)
What’s interesting about the Der Spiegel exclusive, if true, is not only that it exonerates Syria, but that it blames Hezbollah. The magazine reports that the UN special tribunal in the case intended to withhold its conclusion until late June, i.e., until after the election. The fact that it is now being reported makes the Spiegel report seem like a calculated leak designed to undercut Hezbollah’s election chances.
Reports the magazine:
Spiegel has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn. Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah (“Party of God”) that planned and executed the diabolical attack. Tribunal chief prosecutor Bellemare and his judges apparently want to hold back this information, of which they been aware for about a month. What are they afraid of?