Saudis Urge Lebanon PM to Accept Compromise With Hezbollah

Hezbollah to guarantee Saad Hariri protection if he rejects international tribunal investigating 2005 assassination of his father.

Saudi Arabia is compounding Arab pressure on Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to reject an international tribunal investigating the February 2005 assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, sources told Haaretz.

The United Nations-backed tribunal is expected to name Hezbollah, the Iranian- and Syrian-backed group with a strong presence in Lebanon's political establishment, as complicit in the Valentine's Day blast which killed Rafik Hariri as his convoy travelled through Beirut. 

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri - AP

In return for Saad Hariri's cooperation, Hezbollah would guarantee that it would not harm the prime minister. The radical Shi'ite organization would also avoid any overt military activities and Hariri would be allowed to maintain his own security apparatus.

The Saudis, considered the Hariri family's patrons, have stepped up pressure on Hariri to convince him to accept the "compromise" planned by Saudi Arabia and Syria that aims to defuse Lebanon's political crisis.

The fact that Saudi Arabia has joined Syria in pressuring Hariri suggests that the chances have increased significantly that the prime minister will accept the deal.

For the time being, however, Saad Hariri is refusing to make a decision. Last week, Hariri denied a report in the Lebanese daily Al Diyar that he had agreed to distance himself from the international tribunal's report "for Lebanon's interests."

Rafik Hariri and Nasrallah - Haaretz archive

Hariri traveled to New York on Monday for a meeting with Saudi King Abdullah, after Saudi-Syrian mediation efforts were put on hold because of the king's trip to the United States for emergency surgery. But now that the king is recovering, pressure has resumed on Hariri, who is the head of the March 14 alliance, Hezbollah's rivals in Lebanon, which took power following the assassination.

Haaretz has learned that the proposed compromise involves Hariri relinquishing the demand that the international tribunal investigate his father's assassination. He would have to make a statement in which he expresses his rejection of the tribunal's work.

Hariri would apparently be supported by Hezbollah in efforts to disarm Palestinian groups operating outside the refugee camps in the country, even though their numbers are minor compared to those inside the camps. Such a move would be interpreted as another reassertion of Lebanese sovereignty in line with the Taif Agreement of 1989, which ended the Lebanese Civil War. In that deal, government forces disarmed militias; Hezbollah was the only group that refused to disarm.

On Tuesday, the Al Nahar daily reported that Syrian President Bashar Assad had told the Saudis that if they are interested in a strong Lebanon, the indictments that the international tribunal is expected to issue, should be rejected. The newspaper reported that Assad told the Saudis that "we must act together to stop the indictments."

The Lebanese daily Al Safir reported earlier this week that Assad had spoken by phone with the Saudi king, but avoided discussing the compromise proposal, fearing wiretapping by the Americans. The newspaper said the Syrian leader spoke in code about the situation in Lebanon and conditioned a future visit to Beirut with the Saudi king on Hariri's acceptance of the compromise.

The international tribunal is expected to issue indictments in mid-January against some of the suspects in the assassination, Western sources told Haaretz. But at this stage there are no plans to release the details or the identities of the suspects.

The information will be kept under wraps until the judge investigating the murder completes the evaluation of the information. The details of the indictments are expected to be made public by April.

Despite efforts to keep things under wraps, it is also expected that information will leak and the indictments will say senior Hezbollah members had a role in Rafik Hariri's murder.

Pressure by Hezbollah has included death threats on Saad Hariri, whose security has been stepped up, according to reports in Lebanon.

Tensions have also been on the rise between Hezbollah and March 14 activists in Beirut. The latter stay away from neighborhoods controlled by Hezbollah, and a number of the group's leaders have traveled abroad for "holidays," sources say.

Meanwhile, Lebanese security sources said they had uncovered more equipment, allegedly belonging to Israeli spies, in the Chouf Mountains. The sources said Hezbollah helped locate the equipment, which was allegedly used to spy on the coastal plain and the Bekaa Valley. Ten day ago, the Lebanese Army said it had uncovered "spying equipment."