Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah Photo by Archive
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The Lebanese are great fans of conspiracy theories, and Monday's speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was aimed straight at that fetish.

Nasrallah tried to prove that his organization had nothing to do with the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, despite impending indictments in an international court. Instead, he conveniently pointed his finger at Israel.

In his speech, he dwelt on two incidents from the past: Hariri's murder, and a disastrous 1997 raid on Ansariya by Israeli naval commandos.

The common denominator, according to Nasrallah, is that both exemplify Israel's dangerous, subversive activity on Lebanese soil (and underscore why Hezbollah is needed to defend the homeland ). And in both cases, he said, Hezbollah's technological capabilities enabled it to learn the truth.

The speech received widespread and often enthusiastic coverage in the Arab world, especially from Al Jazeera. But in Lebanon itself, it met with some skepticism: Mohammad Kabbara, a member of parliament from the anti-Syria March 14 faction, said it would convince no one but its authors. And Amin Gemayel, a Christian leader, said it contained no proof, and Nasrallah ought to share all his information.

Nasrallah showed intercepted photographs from Israeli drones taken near Hariri's house and that of his brother, along with documentation of intensive Israel Air Force activity on the day of the murder, as if all this were a smoking gun. It wasn't particularly convincing, but that is less important than Al Jazeera's enthusiastic adoption of it.

In the Arab world today, Al Jazeera's support is as good as a court verdict, and is likely to be seen by many Arabs as proof positive of Israel's guilt.

This solution is also convenient for many Lebanese, as Hezbollah's indictment for the murder could lead the country into another civil war - as Nasrallah himself has repeatedly hinted.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the murdered man's son, is between a rock and a hard place. On one side, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are pressing him to ignore the international inquiry's findings.

On the other is the United States, which is already furious over last week's killing by Lebanese soldiers of an Israeli soldier inside Israel.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Congress froze military aid to Lebanon, in a clear signal to Beirut that it had best not get carried away by its renewed love affair with Syria.

With regard to the naval commando disaster, it is true that for many years, Israel dismissed Hezbollah's Iranian-assisted intelligence gathering capabilities.

The fact that Hezbollah was tracking the information broadcast by Israeli drones was fully grasped only a few years after this incident.

Thanks for the hat tip

Moving on to another issue, I suppose we ought to thank Nasrallah for the plug he gave our reporting in his speech on Monday. Nevertheless, as politicians like to say, it was taken out of context.

Nasrallah quoted a report that Haaretz published in May 2009, shortly after the German magazine Der Spiegel first revealed that an international inquiry suspected Hezbollah operatives of involvement in Hariri's murder.

The Haaretz report said that in late 2001, a paper submitted to the head of Military Intelligence had speculated that Hezbollah might assassinate Hariri. Shortly after the murder, an MI document defined as a "minority opinion" argued that Hezbollah was behind the killing, contrary to the prevailing assumption at the time that Syria was the guilty party.

Nasrallah tried to use this report to bolster his claim that Israel not only killed Hariri, but had planned from the start to cast the blame on his peace-loving organization.

This is sheer nonsense: The MI documents reflected a contrarian view that was far from the prevailing wisdom at that time.

Moreover, why would Israel embark on a complex and enormously risky attempt to kill Hariri - who at the time was the most moderate candidate for Lebanon's presidency and the darling of both the U.S. and France - solely in the hope of being able to somehow incriminate Hezbollah at some future date?