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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hezbullah did Syria's dirty work?

The German daily Der Spiegel is reporting that new evidence indicates that Hezbullah was behind the 2005 murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and not Syria as previously believed (Hat Tip: Little Green Footballs).
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?

According to the detailed information provided by the SPIEGEL source, the fact that the case may have been "cracked" is the result of a mixture of serendipity à la Sherlock Holmes and the state-of-the-art technology used by cyber detectives. In months of painstaking work, a secretly operating special unit of the Lebanese security forces, headed by intelligence expert Captain Wissam Eid, filtered out the numbers of mobile phones that could be pinpointed to the area surrounding Hariri on the days leading up to the attack and on the date of the murder itself. The investigators referred to these mobile phones as the "first circle of hell."

Captain Eid's team eventually identified eight mobile phones, all of which had been purchased on the same day in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. They were activated six weeks before the assassination, and they were used exclusively for communication among their users and -- with the exception of one case -- were no longer used after the attack. They were apparently tools of the hit team that carried out the terrorist attack.

But there was also a "second circle of hell," a network of about 20 mobile phones that were identified as being in proximity to the first eight phones noticeably often. According to the Lebanese security forces, all of the numbers involved apparently belong to the "operational arm" of Hezbollah, which maintains a militia in Lebanon that is more powerful than the regular Lebanese army. While part of the Party of God acts like a normal political organization, participating in democratic elections and appointing cabinet ministers, the other part uses less savory tactics, such as abductions near the Israeli border and terrorist attacks, such those committed against Jewish facilities in South America in 2002 and 2004.

The whereabouts of the two Beirut groups of mobile phone users coincided again and again, and they were sometimes located near the site of the attack. The romantic attachment of one of the terrorists led the cyber-detectives directly to one of the main suspects. He committed the unbelievable indiscretion of calling his girlfriend from one of the "hot" phones. It only happened once, but it was enough to identify the man. He is believed to be Abd al-Majid Ghamlush, from the town of Rumin, a Hezbollah member who had completed training course in Iran. Ghamlush was also identified as the buyer of the mobile phones. He has since disappeared, and perhaps is no longer alive.

Ghamlush's recklessness led investigators to the man they now suspect was the mastermind of the terrorist attack: Hajj Salim, 45. A southern Lebanese from Nabatiyah, Salim is considered to be the commander of the "military" wing of Hezbollah and lives in South Beirut, a Shiite stronghold. Salim's secret "Special Operational Unit" reports directly to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, 48.

Imad Mughniyah, one of the world's most wanted terrorists, ran the unit until Feb. 12, 2008, when he was killed in an attack in Damascus, presumably by Israeli intelligence. Since then, Salim has largely assumed the duties of his notorious predecessor, with Mughniyah's brother-in-law, Mustafa Badr al-Din, serving as his deputy. The two men report only to their superior, and to General Kassim Sulaimani, their contact in Tehran. The Iranians, the principal financiers of the military Lebanese "Party of God," have repressed the Syrians' influence.
In Sunday's editions, Haaretz questions the timing of the report's release.
It is possible that the UN investigator examining the Hariri assassination received new information refuting earlier intelligence estimates that the murder was the work of the Syrian regime and Lebanese intelligence officials linked to it. The timing of the report, however, gives the impression that it was released more to alter election results than to bring the truth to light.

Most Lebanese believe Syria masterminded Hariri's assassination to maintain its slipping control over Lebanon, a charge Damascus vehemently denies.

If the report is verified as accurate, questions would still abound over Hezbollah's motivation in eliminating Hariri. The former prime minister accumulated many enemies during his political climb, from business interests who claimed he reneged on debts to Islamic fundamentalists who objected to his secular politics.

The UN investigator will now apparently be forced to either confirm or deny the Der Spiegel report to prevent the international body from being dragged into the Lebanese electoral maelstrom.
Der Spiegel also gives the impression that its report absolves Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Hariri's growing popularity could have been a thorn in the side of Lebanese Shiite leader Nasrallah. In 2005, the billionaire began to outstrip the revolutionary leader in terms of popularity. Besides, he stood for everything the fanatical and spartan Hezbollah leader hated: close ties to the West and a prominent position among moderate Arab heads of state, an opulent lifestyle, and membership in the competing Sunni faith. Hariri was, in a sense, the alternative to Nasrallah.


The revelations about the alleged orchestrators of the Hariri murder will likely harm Hezbollah. Large segments of the population are weary of internal conflicts and are anxious for reconciliation. The leader of the movement, which, despite its formal recognition of the democratic rules of the game, remains on the US's list of terrorist organizations, probably anticipates forthcoming problems with the UN tribunal. In a speech in Beirut, Nasrallah spoke of the tribunal's "conspiratorial intentions."

The revelations are likely to be just as unwelcome in Tehran, which sees itself confronted, once again, with the charge of exporting terrorism. Damascus's view of the situation could be more mixed. Although the Syrian government is not being declared free of the suspicion of involvement, at least President Assad is no longer in the line of fire. Hardly anything suggests anymore that he was personally aware of the murder plot or even ordered the killing.
Don't forget that Hezbullah has a second patron aside from Tehran: Damascus. Hezbullah maintains offices in Syria, Imad Mughniyah was sheltered in Syria, and Syria trans-shipped Iranian weapons to Hezbullah during and after the Second Lebanon War.

This report doesn't take Syria off the hook by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, it may only show that Hezbullah did Syria's dirty work for them.


Hezbullah denies it was behind the Hariri assassination.


At 7:44 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - I think that's very likely and one has to note the timing - just before next month's Lebanese elections. Hezbollah is trying to portray itself as Lebanon's champion against the Israeli aggressor. It wouldn't look so good for them if they were behind the Hariri assassination.

Getting the info out into the open just might stop the Iranian bandwagon in the Levant.

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Ayatollah Ghilmeini said...

The article seems to be written in a way that absolves Syria.

Given Hariri's importance, previous public comments by the investigators and Syria's response: why would anyone think anything other than the obvious, Hezbollah AND Syria conspired on the murders.


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