Al-Ahram Weekly Online   12 - 18 August 2010
Issue No. 1011
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The case against Israel

The fate of the UN Hariri Tribunal hangs in the balance after Hizbullah reveals evidence that implicates Israel, Omayma Abdel-Latif reports

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For almost a year, Hizbullah assigned a team of legal experts the task of collecting evidence that could prove Israel's culpability in the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri in February 2005. The outcome of Hizbullah's "private investigation" was presented in a press conference held by Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in which he revealed valuable evidence that points a finger at Israel as the sole beneficiary of the "shattering earthquake" -- as Nasrallah described it -- that was Al-Hariri's assassination.

For three hours Monday evening, Nasrallah built his case against Israel by presenting aerial reconnaissance footage of areas frequented by Al-Hariri, including the site of the assassination. He pointed out that this proved Israel was tracking his movements for the purposes of assassination. Nasrallah said that Israel has "wiretapping devices, aerial and field surveillance in addition to logistic support to carry out the assassination operation in the Lebanese interior". Nasrallah said the footage was intercepted from Israeli surveillance planes prior to Al-Hariri's assassination. This interception, according to Nasrallah, was one of the breakthroughs achieved by the Islamic resistance movement. "Such footage usually comes as the first leg of the execution of an operation," Nasrallah said in a news conference broadcast via video link.

Several clips were also aired showing aerial views of the coastline off West Beirut on various days prior to Al-Hariri's assassination. The Israeli cameras panned across the Hamra district, Al-Hariri's residences in West Beirut and the parliament, his last stop before his killing in a seafront bomb blast. The Israeli drone's monitoring of Al-Hariri's movements "was not by coincidence", said Nasrallah. "We have definite information on the aerial movements of the Israeli enemy the day Al-Hariri was murdered. Hours before he was murdered, an Israeli drone was surveying the Sidon-Beirut-Jounieh coastline as warplanes were flying over the coast off Beirut." An Israeli AWACS plane was hovering over the coast the day of the assassination -- further proof, pointed out Nasrallah, of Israeli involvement.

In building his case against Israel, Nasrallah took the audience back in time to the early 1990s, presenting evidence that Israel has been working to create a wedge between the resistance movement and the late Al-Hariri. He unveiled information about an Israeli spy called Ahmed Hussein Nasrallah who claimed before the late Al-Hariri that a Hizbullah ring was planning to "liquidate" him and that among this group were senior figures like Imad Mughniyeh (later assassinated by Israel), Ali Dib -- better known as Abu Hassan Salama -- and other big names among Hizbullah's security apparatus.

Hizbullah arrested Ahmed Nasrallah whose confessions were videotaped and aired for the first time during the press conference. Hizbullah's secretary-general said his party handed Ahmed Nasrallah over to Syria, the dominant political and military force in Lebanon at the time. But after his return from Syria, Ahmed Nasrallah remained in prison in Lebanon only to be released "for unknown reasons". He then managed to flee to Israel. "Spy Ahmed Nasrallah deluded Al-Hariri into thinking that Hizbullah had a plan to assassinate Bahia Al-Hariri, and hence to force him to go to Sidon to receive condolences so that he would be assassinated there," Nasrallah added.

Ahmed Nasrallah was the first of "the false witnesses" phenomenon that plagued the Hariri Tribunal investigation. Recent leaks that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was planning to issue its indictments in the fall in which it would direct charges against what it claimed were "undisciplined members" of Hizbullah triggered a series of speeches by Hassan Nasrallah.

The idea to have a team conducting a private investigation into the killing was, according to Nasrallah, inspired by the arrests of an Israeli spy ring in Lebanon starting April 2009. Since then some 150 Israeli spies have been arrested by Lebanese army and security intelligence officers. "An in- depth reading of the confessions of the Israeli agents gave us leads to work towards proving the possibility of Israel's culpability of the crime, although this has been completely ruled out by the [STL] investigation committee," said Nasrallah. Nasrallah spoke at length of suspected spies in Lebanon, airing detailed profiles of a handful of Israeli agents arrested by Lebanese security forces.

When Nasrallah was asked whether or not such valuable evidence would be submitted to the STL investigating Al-Hariri's killing, his answer was brief but telling: "We do not have confidence in this investigation to start with, and even when we accepted to help with the investigation, we did this as witnesses." But if the STL ignores the new facts presented and does not investigate them, this will confirm Hizbullah's conviction that the STL is politicised, said Nasrallah.

Initial reactions to Nasrallah's bombshell remarks varied. Significant, however, was that the signals coming from Saad Al-Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister and son of the late Rafik Al-Hariri, were not encouraging. The Hariri-financed TV channel Al-Mustaqbal ignored the press conference and continued airing its programmes as usual. Former Al-Mustaqbal MP Mustafa Aloush told several TV channels that he "was not convinced by Nasrallah's evidence". There has been no comment -- until Al-Ahram Weekly went to print -- from Hariri's office on Nasrallah's accusations.

Al-Hariri's silence, explained Ibrahim Al-Amin of the daily Al-Akhbar newspaper, has one meaning: things may get complicated. "Al-Hariri told his confidantes that silence will protect the tribunal," wrote Al-Amin in Al-Akhbar 's editorial on Tuesday. This can only mean that Al-Hariri is turning down Nasrallah's helping hand to put an end to the politicisation of the tribunal and the investigation into his father's murder, he added. But other key players, such as the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, voiced the view that Nasrallah presented "evidence valuable enough to open a new investigation into Al-Hariri's killing".

Nasrallah insisted that what he presented was not "conclusive evidence", but was sufficient to open a new investigation into the Al-Hariri killing that should focus on Israel's possible culpability. He added that Hizbullah was ready to assist in any investigation so long as it proved its "seriousness". Although Nasrallah left much unsaid, yet he made no secret of the real purpose behind the press appearance. It is the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab, Muslim and Lebanese public. "We are very concerned about briefing Lebanese, Arab and Muslim public opinion about the information we have," explained Nasrallah, "because we believe that the primary goal behind indicting Hizbullah is to soil the resistance's reputation and image in the eyes of Arab public opinion and to clear Israel's reputation."

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