hariri - Reuters - November 23 2010
Wissam Eid Photo by Reuters
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Reuters
Wissam Hassan Photo by Reuters

An investigation by the Canadian broadcaster CBC released Sunday found Hezbollah to have been directly involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The network's findings, however, are not likely to quell the political firestorm that has engulfed Lebanon over the last few months. On the contrary.

Lebanon's decision-makers (if any other than Hezbollah are worthy of the title ), media and public are all speculating over Hezbollah's next move should the International Court of Justice in The Hague ultimately choose to release its indictment against the organization's members for involvement in the former prime minister's 2005 death in Beirut.

Instead, the CBC news item will likely only exacerbate the dire political situation in which Hezbollah finds itself, with criticism of the group pouring in from all corners of the country. Hassan Nasrallah's objective of portraying himself as a protector of the entire country is fading amid the flurry of testimony pointing to the involvement of his own people in the Hariri hit.

The most compelling evidence uncovered thus far is the registration numbers of mobile phones carried by eight people, all Hezbollah operatives, present at the time and place of the strike.

One course that Hezbollah may choose to calm the waters is a kind of admission of its members' presence at the murder scene, qualified by the pretext of "national security" considerations such as monitoring a suspected Mossad agent. At this stage, however, it seems even that kind of explanation won't help the group clear its name.

If the majority of Lebanese already believe Nasrallah to be an Iranian agent who killed their former premier, should Hezbollah choose now to take control of Lebanon through violence that might actually be in the Shi'ite group's best interest.

In the meantime, Lebanon's current prime minister - and son of the slain leader - Saad Hariri may be losing sleep over the identity of one of those believed to have been involved. The suspect is Wissam Hassan, the Lebanese intelligence chief who was Hariri's chief of protocol at the time of the bombing. Records of Hassan's extensive phone conversations with Nasrallah adviser Hussein Khalil (279 times over 15 months ) seem as solid evidence as any of growing ties between Lebanese security forces and Hezbollah.

The revelation that Hassan is a prime suspect in the hit raises the question of whether military aid granted by Western countries - chiefly the United States - is indirectly benefiting Hezbollah.

The wave of arrests among officials in Lebanese mobile phone operators - all on suspicions of spying for Israel - also reflects just how close cooperation has become between Lebanese intelligence and Hezbollah.

There is one point in this whole affair, however, that can serve as consolation for Israelis, namely that this country may not be the only bungler on the block.

A low-level Hezbollah operative who only wanted to speak with his fiancee for free is apparently the suspect who led to the exposure of his entire strike team. That exposure won't necessarily lead to an indictment against the movement, as investigators continue looking for a "smoking gun" to prove that mobile devices were indeed in the hands of the Hezbollah operatives, not merely on their persons, at the time of the assassination.

Still, Israel should not forget that the organization finding itself in trouble in the Lebanese political arena could well opt to wage an entirely different response - the opening of another front against Israel.