MESS Report / Lebanon's Hariri Needs Hezbollah for His Survival

The son of assassinated Lebanon PM Rafik Hariri may be playing down Hezbollah's alleged role in his father's death in order avoid another civil war.

It was expected that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah devoted much of his speech yesterday to denying his organization's involvement in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. What was less expected was his assertion that Hariri's son, current prime minister Saad Hariri, is the one who informed him that an international prosecutor planned to accuse Hezbollah operatives of responsibility.

Hassan Nasrallah

Nasrallah said Saad Hariri told him that UN prosecutor Daniel Bellemare, who is investigating the case, found no evidence tying either Syria or Hezbollah as an organization to the murder, but did find evidence of the involvement of three or four Hezbollah operatives.

Nasrallah added that Hariri had assured him that he, too, was convinced Hezbollah as an organization had not been involved.

If that is true, it just goes to show that politics is thicker than blood - for Hezbollah is well known for its rigid hierarchy, iron discipline and involvement of senior officials in all decisions at the field level. That makes it highly unlikely that Hezbollah operatives would have been involved in such an incident without the senior leadership's knowledge.

But Hariri's political survival depends on Hezbollah's acquiescence, something evidently more important to him than his family honor. He may also have concluded that if he supports the international probe, he will share his father's fate - or, alternatively, that doing so could risk renewed civil war between Hezbollah and his own March 14 movement. In such a face-off, Hezbollah would certainly win. Thus Hariri hopes to resolve the problem by distinguishing between the operatives and the organization.

But Nasrallah denied yesterday than any of his people were involved, and lashed out at Hariri's party for "not considering the possibility that Israel was behind" the murder.

The Al Arabiya television station reported yesterday that Bellemare had told the UN Security Council he will indict several Lebanese nationals for the murder by the end of this year. Nasrallah charged that this is essentially an American-Israeli plot to get rid of the Hariri-led unity government, in which Hezbollah is a senior partner.

The leader of the Shi'ite movement also said he had no intention of attacking Israel. But Israeli officials have never considered such an attack very likely. Rather, they say, the most likely spark for a war in the north is a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli target overseas to avenge the 2008 assassination of its operations chief, Imad Mughniyeh, for which it blames Israel.