A report by a United Nations panel probing the assassination of former Lebanon Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which many estimate will indict top Hezbollah officials, could lead to Lebanon being taken over by the militant group, Army Radio quoted Israel Defense Forces chief Gabi Ashkenazi as saying on Monday.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the UN tribunal is close to indicting senior Hezbollah commanders for Hariri's murder, with investigators likely to indict between two and six members of the Shi'ite Muslim militia before the end of the year, including Mustafa Badreddine, brother-in-law of Imad Mugniyeh.
Mugniyeh, who was wanted by the U.S. for masterminding a string of terror attacks before he was assassinated in Damascus in 2008, is also believed to have played a role in the 2005 killing of Hariri, the Journal said.
Speaking during an official visit to Canada, Ashkenazi voiced his concern regarding Iran's growing influence in the region, adding that he feared a coup by Hezbollah, who has strong links to Tehran, could topple Lebanon's government in case the UN tribunal indeed implicates it in Hariri's killing.
Hezbollah had previously reacted angrily to growing speculation of an indictment. Last week, the group's chief, Hassan Nasrallah, urged Lebanon to boycott the UN inquiry, accusing investigators of collaborating with Israel.
Security sources in Lebanon have warned of a violent reaction by the Hezbollah if it is formally charged for the murder, saying it could even launch a coup to unseat the current government headed by Hariri's son, Saad.
Ashkenazi said that divisions in the Lebanese army cooperated with the Hezbollah, and even transfered weapons to the group. Ashkenazi also recalled last year's visit of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt to Syria, as guests of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and said that both their fathers were murdered by Syrian emissaries and they were now "walking to Canossa" in order to survive in "a tough neighborhood."
According to Ashkenazi, the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) made a great contribution to the state of security in southern Lebanon, but they were unable to implement their full mandate in the region due to the restrictions placed on them by the Hezbollah.
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