Saad al-Hariri has yet to issue a statement about last night’s press conference, since he is apparently out of the country (where he always seems to be whenever Nasrallah issues one of his earth-shaking statements about the tribunal.)
Until he returns and provides some indication as to how his government is going to respond to Hizbullah’s accusations against Israel, I’m going to give him some unsolicited advice: Thank Nasrallah for his efforts and immediately call for the creation of a Lebanese commission to look into Hizbullah’s “material evidence,” just as the party is demanding.
If Nasrallah is bluffing, Hariri should call him on it. If he’s not, Hariri loses nothing by agreeing to take a closer look at the evidence.
However, if Hariri simply ignores Nasrallah or dismisses his demands, he will be increasing the likelihood that this government will not last the year, throwing the fate of the STL itself into question. Why would this be the case? Let’s play out the most likely scenarios.
If the STL indicts any members of Hizbullah, we can be assured that the party will reject the accusations and will demand that Lebanon’s government reject them as well. Walid Jumblatt (who now counts himself as a bonafide member of March 8th) and Michel Aoun have been expressing their doubts about the integrity of the STL for weeks, and Hizbullah’s new evidence against Israel provides the perfect excuse for them to join in calling for the creation of a Lebanese commission to investigate the “Israeli theory” before any Lebanese citizens are sent to The Hague.
In other words, Hizbullah and its allies (who control over a third of the cabinet) will effectively be able to throw the brakes on the STL’s proceedings by threatening to resign from the coalition government. Without a majority in parliament, Hariri would not be a lock to be re-appointed Prime Minister, opening the door to the possibility that an alternative candidate might be chosen who does not recommit his cabinet to funding the STL.
On the other hand, if Hariri takes the initiative now to form a Lebanese investigating commission, he will force the spotlight back onto Hizbullah and its claims that Israel killed Rafiq al-Hariri.
Nasrallah did not say last night that his presentation provided conclusive evidence against Israel, but simply that it represented a compelling reason to open “new horizons” in the investigation. On this point, he is right. However, there are many reasonable objections that come to mind when considering Hizbullah’s case, for example:
- How do we know what Israel was actually surveilling and when, unless we see the entire archive of footage?
- How do we know that the evidence presented was not taken from a ten-year long film and edited into a compelling made-for-TV montage?
- If Israel started encrypting its feeds after the Ansariyya incident, why would they have encrypted some feeds and not others? How much of this archive derives from the months directly before al-Hariri’s assassination?
- So far, we have heard little from the alleged spies, who are currently on a fast track to the gallows. Should we simply take Hizbullah’s word for it on the matter of their testimonies?
All of these issues can be explored through an investigation into Hizbullah’s archive of evidence, which is why Hariri should not hesitate to launch such an investigation. If the materials are unconvincing, this will surely become clear when they are subjected to intense scrutiny. If there is something actually there, we will be one step closer to discovering al-haqiqa.
In other news, I’ve written a commentary for Foreign Policy’s Mideast Channel about the latest twist in the Hariri murder mystery, which you can read here.
Update: I recommend reading Khalid Saghiyyah’s analysis of Nasrallah’s speech in al-Akhbar, the final paragraph of which I’ve translated below. It is noteworthy because it represents a fairly prevalent line of argument about what Hariri should do. I myself disagree with Saghiyyah, but I think his point of view makes sense to many people.
The question is not, therefore, whether Israel killed al-Hariri. The question is whether the accusation can be directed against Israel. This is the question that Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah responded to yesterday. And perhaps this was what he meant when he said that what he was offering was not evidence but data. Data is enough to save the country. The documents that were presented yesterday say, simply: “Yes, it is possible to re-direct the accusation towards Israel.” And this alone represents a suitable exit for everyone. An exit for the fabricators of false witnesses. An exit for those who are rightfully accused. An exit for those wrongly accused. An exit for the descendants of the victims.
The time now is 2:00 in the morning. So, let us accuse Israel. And let Bellemare go to sleep.