The U.N. Special Tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri has indicted four members of Hezbollah. In August, a clash along the Israeli-Lebanese border followed news that the indictments were coming. If that is how Hezbollah reacted to the reports of the indictments, then Israel must prepare for an even stronger reaction now that the indictments have actually been issued.
The Special Tribunal seeks the arrest of four members of Hezbollah, including Mustafa Badreddine, the brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyah, the group’s operational commander who was killed in 2008. Additional indictments may follow, including non-Lebanese nationals. It has been reported that the investigators have evidence that Syrian intelligence was involved, as well as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps acting on orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The evidence against Hezbollah is thick. The investigators tied Hezbollah members to 28 phones connected to the assassination. One phone was tied to Abd al-Majid Ghamlush, a Hezbollah member who was trained in Iran and has gone missing. A Hezbollah commander in South Beirut named Hajj Salim is also suspected of playing a role as the overseer of a “Special Operations Unit” also run by Badreddine. One of the key providers of this information, Captain Wissam Eid, was killed in a car bombing similar to that which killed Hariri.
The indictments undermine Hezbollah’s mantra that it is a “resistance force,” and exposes the group as a proxy for foreign governments. The reactions of the terrorist group and its state sponsors show that they are aware of the steep political costs that they face. On August 3, a likely Hezbollah-engineered provocation happened on the Israeli-Lebanese border as it appeared that indictments were near. Israel informed UNIFIL that its soldiers were going to trim trees and bushes along the border, as had been regularly done. Two Israeli soldiers were fired upon by a Lebanese sniper, killing one. The Israelis responded, killing two Lebanese soldiers and one journalist. The journalist belonged to a pro-Hezbollah newspaper. The U.N. confirmed that the Israelis did not cross the border, as the Lebanese claimed.
Hassan Nasrallah held a press conference soon afterwards, where he alleged that the real perpetrators of the assassination were Israeli intelligence agents. He showed footage that he asserted was from Israeli drones recording Hariri’s travel route, and claimed that an arrested Lebanese spy for Israel confessed that the Mossad had conducted surveillance on the murder scene. Hezbollah has since reiterated these accusations.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad visited Lebanon in October to express solidarity with Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps paid an author $1 million to write a book claiming that Israel killed Hariri using an American missile. Syrian President Assad likewise said he’d stand by Hezbollah, and warned that the indictments could “destroy” Lebanon. The Syrian regime put out arrest warrants for 33 Lebanese officials for supposedly lying to the U.N. Special Tribunal.
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