France's great effort over the weekend at St. Cloud to revive the Lebanese national dialogue, to bring together representatives of Hezbollah and of the Lebanese government, has not yet yielded a national consensus. A new Lebanese government that will grant Hezbollah a veto over major decisions has not yet been formed, and even the hope of finding a consensual candidate for the presidential elections - someone who might end Lebanon's year-long political freeze - has been dashed for the time being. The national dialogue in Lebanon will continue when French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner deigns to go to Beirut, and in so doing again emphasizes the international aspect of the country's crisis.
Hezbollah only gained from the meeting in France. Once again its representatives made it clear that only resistance by force is the key to liberating Lebanon, and therefore this is not yet the time to talk about disarming Hezbollah, and that United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701 may be nicely worded, but their implementation is lackadaisical.
The very heart of the present political crisis in Lebanon is the government's decision of last November to establish an international court to try those responsible for the assassination in 2005 of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The meeting in France saw many drafts of a new agreement, but without any real decision; the eighth probe report since the investigative committee was established in 2005, prepared by special UN investigator Serge Brammertz, was published days before the St. Cloud meeting. The 120 pages of the summarizing report are still not an indictment. The report does not mention names of suspects or heads of state who are liable to have been involved in this assassination (and in additional assassinations in Lebanon during the past two years), but it reminds the Lebanese and the Syrians not only how the present crisis in Lebanon began, but also where it is probably heading.
The last thing desired by Syria or Lebanese President Emil Lahoud, whose term finishes at the end of the year, is an international court that will try senior members of the former Syrian and Lebanese regimes. So Hezbollah will continue to make every effort to torpedo its establishment. To date it has done so with great success. The organization enlisted pro-Syrian Speaker of the National Assembly Nabih Beri, and he is preventing the convening of the Lebanese parliament. If it does not convene, there is no constitutional ratification of the government decision.
But even if the international court is not established, the Brammertz report is a threat to those who cooked up the assassination. The many details, the meticulous investigation and the manner in which the investigative committee operated testify to the fact that on the day when Brammertz or his expediters decide to publish the evidence, there will not be much room for doubt as to their validity. In his report Brammertz is preparing not only the international trial but also, if necessary, the public trial. That is the reason for the strictness and meticulousness regarding the smallest details of the ramifications of the acts of murder.
The committee's modus operandi shows in its examination of the suspicion that the suicide bomber who carried out the assassination is Ahmed Abu Adas.
In a videotape released after the assassination, Abu Adas, who apparently belonged to one of the radical Islamic organizations, speaks about his plans to eliminate the prime minister. The entire direction of the investigation depended on the truth of this filmed confession, which many doubted. If an Islamic organization was behind the assassination, this would clear Syrian or Lebanese intelligence, or both.
For two years the committee investigated the identity of the person who set off the car blast that killed Hariri, and only in the last report does Brammertz determine, although he does so with well-worded caution, that it was not Abu Adas.
According to the report, laboratory tests indicate the assassin was a young man of 20-25, with short black hair, who came "from a place where the climate is drier than in Lebanon." The assassin did not live there in his youth, but for three or four months before the assassination. And furthermore: The assassin lived in a city for the first 10 years of his life, and in a village for the next decade, but they still don't know, or perhaps are not publishing, the name of his city of origin.
To pinpoint his place of residence or possible origins, the investigative team gathered 112 samples of water and soil at 28 different sites in Syria and Lebanon, and from 26 sites in other countries (the report does not say whether these were Arab countries). The samples were compared with findings from the body. All of these, in addition to an extensive bank of composite portraits of people who, according to eyewitnesses, were seen in the area of the murder, and a three-dimensional computer program that described the events in the area, led to one clear conclusion: Abu Adas was not the assassin. Why did he make a videotape?
The committee presents two possibilities: one, they forced him to be filmed and later executed him. The second: He was filmed of his own free will since he was a member of one of the extremist Islamic organizations. Whatever the case, after the committee concluded that Abu Adas was not the murderer, the reason for the filming is not particularly important.
Another example of the thoroughness of the committee's work is the systematic way in which conversations from cell phones and land lines, which took place during the weeks preceding the assassination, were gathered and sorted, and the way in which the investigators succeeded in greatly narrowing down the number of people who held conversations relating to the assassination of Hariri. The investigators identifed six mobile phone SIM cards used to plan the murders.
Although the report mentions the "generally satisfactory" cooperation on the part of the Syrian authorities, who are those six people? Are they senior Syrian intelligence officials? Lebanese intelligence? Was the political leadership in those countries involved? There is no answer to that. But it is not only those who were involved who are under investigation. The political circumstances, and particularly the chain of events that gave rise to Security Council Resolution 1559 in the summer of 2004 - the decision that called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon and the disarming of all the militias, and greatly angered Syria and Hezbollah - were carefully examined by the committee. Its conclusion on that issue is of particular interest: "The events related to Resolution 1559 played an important role in preparing the atmosphere for the assassination of Hariri."
In this vague wording, the accusing finger pointed to opponents of the resolution, and therefore, even when the committee explains that it examined additional avenues, such as an ethnically motivated murder or one committed by an extremist organization, the link to Resolution 1559 is enough to eliminate these possibilities and to present Syria and its activists in Lebanon as the main suspects.
In the same cautious manner, the report points to a series of threats to the investigators from "various parties," and mentions its top priority, protection of the witnesses who have appeared before the committee and will do so in future.
The findings of the investigation were collected in 2,400 pages, which join over 100,000 pages of documents and other testimony. The question now is where those documents will end up, and whether they will see the light of day in the context of some kind of legal proceeding, or whether Lebanese politics, which received new momentum in France this week, will envelop the Brammertz committee as well in one of the "national agreements."
The Lebanese government, which wants to end the crisis, could for example agree to a Saudi-Iranian proposal, whose draft speaks of establishing a Lebanese court under the supervision of the Arab League, instead of an international court. Ostensibly this is a court of the type that tried Saddam Hussein, but in Iraq's case there was someone who was clearly to blame, and all that was needed was an appropriate judicial procedure to enable his execution. In the case of Lebanon, on the other hand, the issue is far more complicated: There is no one main suspect, and there is nobody who can enforce the decision of a Lebanese court against those who are convicted, if and when they are convicted.
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